Ranil bags PM post while Sajith misses the bus

0
231

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, less than a year after being sworn in as a National List MP, was appointed as Prime Minister by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday evening  and assumed duties in crises-hit country on Friday the 13th.

The 73-year-old six-time Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, was sworn in before the President after the main Opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) refused to take the post without the President’s resignation.

The swearing-in ceremony was held at the President’s House in Fort at the auspicious time of 6:30 p.m.

After being sworn in as the Prime Minister, Wickremesinghe paid homage at Walukarama Viharaya, Kollupitiya and engaged in religious activities.

Speaking to the Media after engaging in religious activities, Wickremesinghe said he would do whatever he can to resolve the current crises with the support of all parties in Parliament.

He said, the ‘GotaGoGama’ citizens’ protest site at Galle Face should continue and the Police would not interfere with the protesters.

Speaking further, Wickremesinghe said he will command a majority in Parliament, adding that no decision has been taken so far with regard to the number of Cabinet Ministers.

Meanwhile, Special Grade Officer of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service, Saman Ekanayake was appointed as the Secretary to the PM, on the same evening. Ekanayake acted as the PM’s Secretary when Wickremesinghe held the post from 2015 to 2019.

Wickremesinghe entered politics in the 1970s from the UNP. He was first elected to Parliament from the Biyagama electorate at the 1977 Parliamentary Election and was appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, by his uncle, President J.R. Jayewardene.

He was later appointed as the Youth Affairs and Empowerment Minister, becoming the youngest Cabinet Minister in Sri Lanka.

Former President Ranasinghe Premadasa appointed him as the Minister of Industry, Science and Technology and the Leader of the House in 1989.

He succeeded D.B. Wijetunga as Prime Minister in 1993, following the assassination of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa and Wijetunga became the President of the country.

Wickremesinghe was appointed as the Opposition Leader after the assassination of Gamini Dissanayake during the propaganda campaign for the Presidential Election in November 1994.

In the General Election held in 2001, the UNF led by Wickremesinghe secured 109 seats and Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the 17th Prime Minister.

He was appointed as Prime Minister by President Maithripala Sirisena in January 2015. Wickremesinghe was removed as Prime Minister on 26 October 2018 with the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, which Wickremesinghe refused to accept, resulting in a constitutional crisis. The constitutional crisis ended with Sirisena re-appointing Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister on 16 December 2018.

He contested the following Parliamentary Election in 2020, but failed to secure a seat in Parliament. He received less than 30,000 votes in the election.

All hell broke loose

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, during a special Cabinet meeting held the previous week, asked the Prime Minister-led Cabinet to resign and pave the way to form a national programme to stabilise the country ending the current crises.

Confirming this, former minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa said the Prime Minister’s decision to resign would be made within few days.

“Once the Prime Minister resigns the Cabinet stands automatically dissolved. The President requested us to resign to end this political stalemate,” he added.

Meanwhile, President Rajapaksa telephoned Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and invited him to form a Government. The latter, on the following day, told a group of youth that he was not in favour of following up on the request. However, following the meeting with the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, Premadasa said the party too had a national responsibility in the public interest and therefore was willing to consider the invitation to form an All-Party Government.

The BASL, on the other hand, met President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on two different occasion on the same day.

“Discussions went smoothly and both responded favourably,” the BASL spokesman said.

President Rajapaksa had informed the BASL that action to be taken constitutionally on the proposals presented by the Association will be taken into account.   

Amidst all this developments former PM Mahinda Rajapaksa went seeking blessings of Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura.

After arriving by helicopter at the Anuradhapura Air Force Base, around 8.10 a.m., the Prime Minister met Dr. Pallegama Sirinivasa Thera, Chief Incumbent of the Atamasthana of Anuradhapura, and received his blessings.

Several people had demonstrated in front of the Sri Maha Bodhi.

Following that, Rajapaksa went to Mirisawetiya, but the people, present at the time, staged a protest in front of the Atamasthana against his arrival and Security Forces escorted him away.

“We expect good news from you tomorrow morning,” a protester shouted. Protesters also gathered after the Prime Minister left the venue after religious observances.

However, by midnight, the stage was being set for an unpleasant scenario with hundreds of local government and provincial council members tipped to visit Temple Trees in the morning.  A social media campaign was already underway indicating organised groups will arrive at Temple Trees to demand Mahinda Rajapaksa to remain, as the campaign was titled “We want Mahinda”. It was evident that a clash of two protesting groups was inevitable. Thus, a few leaders in the ‘Aragalaya’ tried to contact Western Province Senior DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon to emphasise the need of taking appropriate measures to avoid any unpleasantaries. However, SDIG Tennakoon appeared to either have been busy with his chores or had decided not to respond to any calls or WhatsApp messages.

All hell broke with former PM Rajapaksa and his close confidants, led by MP Johnston Fernando and Sanath Nishantha, provoking SLPP supporters and instigating them to attack peaceful protesters in front of Temple Trees and Galle Face, in a final attempt to retain power that resulted in a bloodbath in the country.

Violence escalated all over the country, when a large number of Mahinda Rajapaksa supporters attacked peaceful protesters at the GotaGoGama protest site at Galle Face in Colombo on Monday (9), killing several people, including a Parliamentarian and injuring dozens of others.

After creating the chaos, Prime Minister Rajapaksa tendered his resignation to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The incidents began following Prime Minister Rajapaksa’s meeting with SLPP supporters in the morning. The supporters urged Rajapaksa not to resign. The PM at the meeting vowed to his supporters that he would make any sacrifice on behalf of the country.

According to video footage, the supporters were seen urging each other to visit ‘GotaGoGama’ after the meeting. 

They then assaulted anti-Government protesters who were part of the protest site that was set up in front of Temple Trees under the name ‘MynaGoGama.’

They confronted the anti-Government protesters and started to break their huts. Anti-government protesters were assaulted by Rajapaksa supporters and several of their protest-related material were removed and set alight by SLPP supporters.

A few photojournalists were also attacked by several SLPP supporters and were eventually assaulted by those who were at the scene.

The protesters also broke the Police barricades and entered the GotaGoGama protest site. They attacked huts erected by the Red Cross, St. John Ambulance Service and protesters. A part of the library at the protest site was also destroyed.

The Police fired tear gas, however, it was not enough to stop the violence. It is alleged that the Police did not do enough to prevent the clashes when the pro-Rajapaksa group was heading towards Galle Face.

Enraged by the attacks on peaceful protest sites, people across the country took to the streets and started to attack the buses that were carrying pro-Rajapaksa protesters and property of ruling party politicians.

The people responded to the violence, spurred by the pro-Rajapaksa group, by assaulting them in return. Dozens of Rajapaksa supporters were blocked by the anti-Government protesters after they jumped into Beira Lake in Colombo. Rajapaksa ally Mahinda Kahandagama was assaulted by the protesters too.

Just after the reporting of the attack, JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake arrived at GotaGoGama. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and a group of SJB MPs also visited the scene, but were chased away by the protesters.

Furthermore, buses that carried the pro-Rajapaksa group to Colombo were blocked and attacked as well.

The ancestral home of the Rajapaksa family in Medamulana, Hambantota was set ablaze by protesters. The Rajapaksa Museum in Medamulana was also set on fire.

Houses and vehicles of MPs including Gamini Lokuge, Sanath Nishantha, who led a pro-Rajapaksa group to Galle Face, Johnston Fernando, Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, Janaka Tissakuttiarachchi, Shantha Bandara, Kanaka Herath, Nimal Lanza, Anusha Pasquel, Prasanna Ranatunga, Kanchana Wijesekara, Ali Sabri Raheem and Moratuwa Mayor Saman Nanda Lal who led the group to Galle Face were set on fire by angry protesters. Avenra Gardens Hotel in Negombo was attacked too.

Wanted: a PM

The country ended up becoming bankrupt on all fronts as the people’s pent up feelings came to the fore and they created utter mayhem countrywide on that day. At the same time the people demanded President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also to step down from his post.

The President was not in a position to control the situation as the country dragged on sans a PM and a Cabinet for more than 106 hours. He ultimately decided to address the country on 11 May and assured that a new PM and a new Cabinet will be sworn in shortly. As per that assurance given to the country, the President decided to hold separate talks with all political parties representing in Parliament with the intention of selecting a suitable Prime Minister. Both the SJB and the JJB had stated from the outset that they will have no truck with any Government that is helmed by the President. In the meantime a few other political parties had also mooted a few names from which to select the new interim PM.

During the four days that lapsed without a new PM, after the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, former PM Ranil Wickremesinghe was inundated with calls to intervene with the aim of resolving the country’s political impasse. He then decided to test the waters as it were and sought the views from his party activists on whether he should step up to the plate to overcome the crises here. Having accepted the invitation sent to him by the President who offered Wickremesinghe the Premiership, the latter headed to the President’s House during the evening of 11 May. Following lengthy talks between the duo the President had mentioned that the UNP Leader was the most suitable and qualified politician to helm an Interim Regime till such time the nation is put back on the rails before going for a snap General Election. The UNP Leader stated that he will accept the post only if he is able to command a majority in the Legislature. During this time 10 SJB MPs led by Harin Fernando headed to the 5th Lane Residence of the UNP Leader.

They conveyed to Wickremesinghe that a group was planning to link up with the UNP. Afterwards, on 13 May at 6.30 pm Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the country’s new PM before the President. The new Premier then went to the Gangarama Temple to take part in religious observances and receive the blessings of the Buddhist Clergy.

After the UNP received only a solitary National List slot in the 9th Parliament at the conclusion of the 2020 General Election, its Leader was not that keen to enter the House. He stated that it will not be opportune for him to go to Parliament merely via the National List. During this time a massive amount of spadework was being carried out by UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardene towards coaxing the Leader to go to the House through its National List. Abeywardene maintained that he will not turn back till he makes Wickremesinghe the next PM and his prediction has come true today. Having assumed the Premiership, Wickremesinghe vowed that he will do his utmost to turn around the country’s flagging political and economic fortunes.

Crying over spilt milk

SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa made a last ditch attempt to lay claim to the vacant Premiership, but his efforts went up in smoke. It however created ripples in the local political circles. The SJB stated that amidst the ongoing protest at GotaGoGama at Galle Face Green, the President had rung up the SJB Leader and had invited him to take up the Premiership.

Responding to it, the Opposition Leader had maintained that his party will continue to stand with the youths who are continuing to agitate at GotaGoGama. He had stated that under any circumstance the expectations and the aspirations of the youths engaged in that protest has to be fulfilled.

Also the Opposition Leader had promised the President to get back to him after having spoken to the SJB Parliamentary Group. At the end of the phone conversation with the President the SJB Leader had advised his General Secretary Ranjith Maddumabandara to convene the party’s Parliamentary Group. During that meeting the SJB Leader had explained the conversation he had with the President and the latter’s response. He then sought the views of his Parliamentary Group with regard to taking over the Premiership.

The MPs were of the view that more than politics they should consider the plight of the people and the country, but the Leader insisted that his stance is for the President to step down. In the meantime the SLPP goons who had taken part at a political meeting convened at Temple Trees by the former PM then proceeded to assault the peaceful protesters at GotaGoGama.

The Leader said that the Rajapaksa family had unleashed their goons on innocent protesters and he vowed to go to the protest site. However, the security officers advised the Leader not to be hasty in going there as the SLPP goons armed with iron poles and clubs had gone on rampage. They stated that his life would be in serious danger. But, the Leader still arrived at the site. When irate goons of the SLPP began to accost the Leader, he was whisked away to the Opposition Leader’s Office by his security officers. The SJB MPs then inquired as to the identity of his attackers. The Leader charged that he had been accosted by goons of the Rajapaksa family and insisted that he would say it in public. He stated that the Rajapaksa family will be held accountable for their despicable actions. On the previous day the homes of most of the lawmakers of the Rajapaksa loyalists were torched.

At that moment MPs Manusha Nanayakkara and Harsha de Silva insisted that the SJB should intervene to quell the crisis situation. The MPs suggested that whilst they should expedite its efforts to oust the President, they should also make an effort to take over the Government. De Silva said that they should take up the challenge irrespective of whether they could succeed or not. The Leader too agreed with De Silva’s suggestion.

The Leader also insisted that for the SJB to take over the Government the entire Rajapaksa clan should not be involved in any aspect of the new regime. In the meantime the Chief Prelates also rang the Leader and advised him to take over the Government and not to betray the protest at GotaGoGama at this juncture. The Cardinal too contacted the Leader and instructed him to step into the Premiership role sans any conditions and not to protect the Rajapaksa clan. Around this time the Leader drafted a letter to be fired to the President stating of his willingness to become the new PM.

However, he stipulated a few conditions in that letter if he is to become the PM. The conditions were for the President to depart from his post during a given time frame, the activation of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution with the backing of the political parties during a fortnight, introduction of the necessary Constitutional amendments, the staging of a General Election for the people to choose a new Government etc.

Around this time the media had revealed to the country that UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was all set to be sworn in as the new PM. Then the Leader insisted that both he and his party had taken the right decision at the right time and the agendas of others were immaterial to them. The letter addressed to the President by the SJB Leader was drafted by MPs Eran Wickremaratne, Ranjith Maddumabandara, Kabir Hashim and the Secretary to the Opposition Leader Ravi Jayawardene. It was taken to be delivered to the President by Jayawardene and S.M. Marikkar. The Leader then inquired from the President’s Secretary Gamini Senerath whether the letter was received by him and the latter responded in the affirmative.

But, Senarath said there was a hitch in it. Then Harsha de Silva wanted to know what the issue was about. Senarath stated that the President had given an assurance to someone else. Then De Silva advised Senarath to work according to the wishes of the SJB and its Leader as they are the main Opposition. A few hours afterwards the UNP Leader was sworn in as the new PM. The SJB Leader said that instead of resolving the country’s issues the Rajapaksa’s were determined to aggravate the problems.

Pic by Sajeewa Chinthaka