Talks on sending MR home appears a mere hoodwink

0
386

A 24-hour general strike and massive public protests were held islandwide on Thursday (28), demanding that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Government resign immediately. Over 1,000 trade unions participated in the strike.

Schools and businesses were closed, public and private transportation, postal services were interrupted and banks were partially shut, in support of the strike. Railway employees too joined the strike by applying for sick leave. Shops and economic centres in many areas were closed as well.

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) did not strike yesterday. However, they held protests in support of the unions that engaged in the strike.

Public protests were staged in many areas including Matara, Kurunegala, Kandy, Anuradhapura, Chilaw, Kegalle, and Gampaha, as well as the Free Trade Zones in Katunayake and Koggala.

“The message is very clear. The people demand the President, the PM and the Cabinet must resign. We will conduct an islandwide hartal on 6 May,” Wasantha Samarasinghe of the Inter Company Employees’ Union said.

The trade union action was organised under the theme of ‘Corrupt Government, Go Home.’

Meanwhile, thousands of people continued to protest opposite the Presidential Secretariat for the 22nd consecutive day, demanding for the President and Prime Minister to resign.

SLFP lobbying support

In the backdrop of many protest demonstrations, strikes and other moves launched towards the ouster of the present Government, the SLFP have been busy holding talks with various segments from the society such as Ambassadors, High Commissioners, professionals, experts from relevant sectors, well-known artists etc.

The aim of the SLFP is to gain the support of three segments towards the strengthening of the party politically and to solidify its own efforts towards the formation of an All-Party Interim Government.

Though several rounds of talks have already been held, it is also stated that these discussions had been held sans the participation of the party Chairman and the General Secretary with MPs Mahinda Amaraweera, Duminda Dissanayake, Lasantha Alagiyawanna and Jagath Pushpakumara.

Among the main topics of discussions were the ability of the SLFP to contest future polls on its own, the creation of a programme to rid the country from its economic meltdown as well as the formation of an All-Party Interim Government.

MR’s proposal to Cabinet

The proposal submitted to the Cabinet by PM Mahinda Rajapaksa on 25 April towards the reactivation of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, with necessary changes, was ratified.

Thus the PM forwarded the 20th Amendment to the Constitution towards the reintroduction of the 19th Amendment. Speaking at the Cabinet meeting the PM noted that the present Constitution, which had been introduced in 1978, had been amended no less than 20 times. He explained that due to various political, economic and social issues that had cropped up during the past, from time-to-time, there had been a need for such amendments to be introduced to the Constitution.

In the 19th Amendment to the Constitution it was stipulated that no dual citizen is able to become a MP or even contest a Presidential or General Election. Hence, in order to amend that clause the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was tabled in Parliament. The real reason for it was to allow a member of the Rajapaksa clan, Basil Rajapaksa, to enter Parliament and then to grant him a powerful Ministerial portfolio. After the ratification of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, Basil Rajapaksa entered the House on the National List before being sworn in as the Finance Minister.

Hence, the PM proposed the activation of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution via the 21st Amendment to the Constitution as a sure-fire way to overcome the country’s current pressing issues.

When the 20th Amendment was ratified in Parliament the incumbent President told a disgruntled group of Government MPs that its loopholes will be addressed via the introduction of a new Constitution. The President advised them to place their implicit trust in him as he would carry it out. However, most of those MPs are no longer with the present Government as they became independent in the House and the questions that begs to be answered is when that brand new Constitution will be tabled in Parliament.

Verbal confrontations

During a recent meeting held by a group of Government MPs with the President, a heated exchange of words had taken place between State Ministers Arundika Fernando and Sanath Nishantha.

It is reported that Fernando sternly criticised former Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who is also the founder of the SLPP, at this meeting.

He insisted that the time was ripe for Basil Rajapaksa to quit politics altogether, while taking measures to shut down the SLPP Head Office in Nelum Mawatha forthwith.

Afterwards, the State Minister also maintained that PM Mahinda Rajapaksa should not leave office under any circumstances and after leaving the discussion he informed the waiting journalists that the PM should relinquish his office.

Dullas targeted

A scuffle at the Presidential Palace! Dullas accused of conspiracy! No I’m not conspiring  Dullas! I will not ask the Prime Minister to step down – President! Mahinda concludes talks amid controversy.

A group meeting of the SLPP Parliamentarians, held under the patronage of the President, at the Presidential House on Thursday evening, ended in a great upheaval.

State Minister Arundika Fernando was the first to speak on the Interim Government.

At the same time, MP Tissa Kuttiarachchi has criticised the statement made by Arundika Fernando and pointed out that the mandate was not given to form interim governments but to form an SLPP Government. Also, Kuttiarachchi launched a scathing attack on Dullas Alahapperuma, saying that the latter is conspiring to become the Prime Minister. Kuttiarachchi had repeatedly referred to Alahapperuma as ‘Marasi Kota’ with reference to latter’s hight.

At the same time, Alahapperuma has angrily stated that although he is short, he is as strong as a mountain and will not conspire to become the Prime Minister.

Afterwards, Arundika Fernando has spoken again and stated that this issue is a family issue and it should be resolved within the family. Angered by Arundika’s statement, MP Namal Rajapaksa has said that family talk is unnecessary here and that Arundika will come here with one and say another.

Thereafter, the Prime Minister initiated the discussion. Commenting on Dullas, the Prime Minister said, “Dullas is not someone who would backstab another to get positions. I was the one who brought Dullas into politics.”

A group including Pavithra Wanniarachchi, who is considered loyal to the Prime Minister, had also taken steps to speak out strongly against the interim government.

The President stated that he has never asked the Prime Minister to resign.

“I will never ask the Prime Minister to resign. Above all, my brother is more important to me. So if there are 113 there is no problem. Otherwise, I will have to give the PM’s job to anyone who brings in 113,”the President has said.

The Prime Minister, at this point, stated that he has a majority of 113 members.

PM meets provincial politicians

The recent meeting convened by the PM with SLPP Pradeshiya Sabha (PS) councillors and Local Government (LG) members at Temple Trees became both intense and heated.

A handful of former SLPP, PS and LG members had criticised the PM and Basil Rajapaksa to no end.

One of them alleged that the Rajapaksa clan had turned the SLPP into their own family boutique whilst opening and shutting its doors according to their own whims and fancies. He said that if the Rajapaksa clan is unable to operate the SLPP boutique according to the demands of ‘customers’ then they should look elsewhere without striving to rock the boat.

However, he stressed that the affection they have for the PM had not diminished as it is due to the latter’s popularity that two-thirds of SLPP MPs had been able to get elected to the House.

Another member pointed out that though the PM had not done him any personal favours, the PM had worked selflessly for the people and the country and that his leadership to end the three decade long war cannot be either ignored or forgotten in a jiffy.

During the meeting held at Temple Trees, the Gampaha PS Chairman Ranjith Gunawardene insisted that that he was not in favour of the PM leaving public office midway through his term. He warned that any efforts made to exert undue pressure on the PM, forcing him to quit office, will result in them taking to the streets with the masses countrywide to thwart such underhand moves.

A female PS member stated that they voted for the incumbent President due to assurances given to them by the PM. She added that a well-planned conspiracy was currently being hatched to oust the PM from office.

The Chairman of Kesbewa Urban Council too warned that if needed they will go on a massive protest march to the President’s House in Fort and then convey to the President in no uncertain terms their opposition to moves aimed at ousting the PM. He said they are vehemently opposed to any moves made to oust the PM from public office.

After listening to all these opinions, the PM responded by quipping that they should not be afraid as he will not be quitting any time soon and he had also not been asked to step down.                

Prez explains his stance

The SLFP said President Rajapaksa had expressed his consent to form an All-Party Interim Government, having replaced the current PM and Cabinet.

SLFP Chairman MP Maithripala Sirisena said that during a meeting held with the independent group of MPs, with the President at President’s House in Fort on 29 April, the latter had expressed is willingness to carry out the aforesaid task.

He said the President would shortly invite, in writing, leaders of other political parties represented in the House to discuss this matter further.

Sirisena said that after the formation of the new All-Party Interim Government a National Board will be formed to advise both the President and the caretaker PM on the functioning of the Interim Government.

The former President added that his party had proposed the concept of an All Party Interim Government as a resolution to the country’s burning issues and not with the aim of propping up the present regime.

He stated that they will also hold talks with both the SJB and the JJB with the aim of succeeding in their efforts to form the said Government.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, however, has stated that he is ready to form an all-party government but the Prime Minister cannot be removed from office at this time, as such action could destabilise the country and create a serious crisis.

The President said this at a discussion held with a group of 11 independent parties at the Presidential House on Friday morning.

The President has further pointed out that if the Prime Minister is removed, there is a danger that the country will not receive the international assistance it is supposed to receive.

He further said that in order to form a new government, the overall plan should be presented to him, such as what it should look like, what its composition is, who its ministers would be and so on.

However, former President Maithripala Sirisena, Wimal Weerawansa and Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe have pointed out to the President that steps should be taken to change the Prime Minister and the Cabinet prior to forming an all-party government.

The President has said that it is not a problem to form a government together but there is a serious problem regarding the removal of the Prime Minister. The President has also summoned Finance Minister Ali Sabri to brief the gathering on the current financial situation in the country.

Minister Ali Sabri also spoke at length on the current serious financial crisis in the country. He also said that the country would have to face more severe economic consequences in the future.

Meanwhile, SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara has since requested the President to remove at least the portfolios of Suren Raghavan and Shantha Bandara, who had joined the Government from the SLFP and obtained ministerial posts.

However, the President has declined the request citing such action could jeopardise his credibility.

Duminda Dissanayake, Chandima Weerakkody and Sudarshani Fernandopulle, representing the Independent Group, have boycotted the discussion.

Ranil says sending one Rajapaksa is impractical

Due to economic meltdown creating chaos throughout the country, the political impasse has also contributed to the upheaval and there seems to be no sign of relief to the masses. Due to these reasons the past week proved to be hectic for the UNP Leader.

Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe devoted much of his time during the past week to conduct separate discussions with representatives from the SJB, JJB and other smaller parties in Parliament.

The main topic at each of these meetings was the No Confidence Motion that was to be tabled in the House against the current regime which is struggling to remain in power in the face of the countrywide clamour for its ouster. Both the TNA and the JJB were of the similar view that when the nation was demanding in one voice for the ouster of the entire Rajapaksa clan from public office, tabling a NCM solely for the ouster of a solitary Rajapaksa would not be sufficient.

While holding talks with the SJB it became clear to the Leader that there were two schools of thought within that camp. One faction of the SJB was in favour of forming a caretaker Government while allowing the President to remain in office. Wickremesinghe was not in agreement with that notion. He stated that if the people are demanding for the resignation of the entire Rajapaksa clan from public office, then it would not make sense for sending one Rajapaksa home and then going on to work with another Rajapaksa.

In the meantime, the Leader met party activists and officials during the past few days. At these talks the current political situation was discussed. Wickremesinghe gave a lengthy explanation of the current situation after which party activists inquired whether the Leader was planning to attend the All-Party Conference (APC) convened by the President, last Friday.

The Leader stated that it was not an APC and only a meeting for Party Leaders of the Government. He said if he is invited for an APC he will decide on it then and there. The Leader then inquired about the party mechanism and its progress. He then advised the activists to fill up party organiser vacancies and further strengthen that process. Assistant Leader Akila Viraj then inquired what stance the party would take in the event of the NCM being tabled against the Government. The Leader explained that when the masses are demanding for the Rajapaksa clan to leave public office the UNP cannot accept for only one member of the clan to step down and instructed the activists to enlighten the public on it. He then ordered the activists to further elaborate it to the country via a media conference. Then Sagala Ratnayake inquired what measures the party would take to mark the 2022 May Day. Akila Viraj stated that youths are currently staging an uninterrupted protest at the Galle Face Green and urged political parties not to conduct traditional May Day processions but to hoist black flags instead of red flags. He stated that they had also urged for shops and boutiques to be shut down and to support their struggle on that day.

This suggestion was accepted by all, and they all decided to take part in the Galle Face Green protest by being clad in black clothes. When the party activists met the Leader on Wednesday they inquired about measures being taken to replace the current PM with MP Dullas Alahapperuma.

Wickremesinghe opined it could only further weaken the MP as a politician. They then talked about the current political rift between the President and the PM. Range Bandara said that very people who had worked overtime to weaken the nexus between the former President (Maithripala Sirisena) and Wickremesinghe as the then PM during the Yahapalana regime have now begun to face its consequences as it has boomeranged on them. Ratnayake said that TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran had begun to table a NCM against the President and wanted to know about its progress. The Leader said that the most important thing now was to successfully submit a NCM against the Government instead of striving to impeach the President as that would be a time consuming process. The Leader then noted that he will be meeting trade unionists next week, having met bankers during the past week. He was then briefed about the Sathyagraha to be staged in protest over the murder of party activist Chaminda Lakshan at Rambukkana on 19 April.

Pix by Kelum Chamara