President tightens grip as SLPP crisis deepens

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe is all set to unveil his policy statement to the country. Hence, he spent most of the past week assessing and discussing what should be incorporated when compiling the policy statement.

Meanwhile, President Wickremesinghe advised both Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Leader of the House, Minister Susil Premajayantha to allocate an earlier date to make the Policy Statement. The President is empowered by the Constitution to present his policy statement on the first day of a new Parliament session upon it being prorogued.

His policy statement by and large is expected to address the main issues prevailing in the country, such as the programme to revive its fallen economy, the introduction of a budget granting immediate relief to the oppressed masses, and ways and means of establishing political stability.

UNP Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene conveyed a message to President Wickremesinghe about a group of protesters who have expressed interest in meeting the latter.

Wickremesinghe maintained that he was always ready to be engaged in a constructive dialogue with genuine protesters, but insisted that he has no time to waste on “fascists.”

The UNP has managed to land an Executive President of its own to office after a lapse of 28 years. Since 1994, the UNP had attempted in vain to send one of its politicians to the highest political echelon.

As this calls for celebrations for party men, the President in his capacity as the Leader of the UNP made a sudden visit to the party Head Office Sirikotha to convey his gratitude to its staffers. The President also met several foreign envoys during the past week.

Among them were the High Commissioner of India and High Commissioner of Bangladesh, Ambassadors of Russia, China, and the USA. During these talks, the President and the foreign diplomats had focused on the pressing economic issues faced by Sri Lanka as well as the importance of maintaining law and order in the country.

The President then headed to the Sedawatta Temple to engage in religious observances last Sunday evening. During his visit to the temple, Venerable Pelpola Vipassi Thera delivered a sermon and proffered valuable advice to the President as well.

The monk instructed the President to always stand for the truth and not to be swayed by anyone. He also assured the President that all progressive measures are being implemented by the latter for the benefit of the country and the people will have the blessings of the Buddhist Clergy.

Minister Vidura Wickremanayake too was present at this occasion. The President also did not forget to mingle with a group of people who had arrived at the temple, having been informed of the presence of the President. He spoke to them despite advice being given by his security staff not do so.

Most of them urged the President to resolve the country’s economic upheaval forthwith. The President assured them that he will resolve it and to give him a bit of time.

The President then attended the assumption of duties of new Premier and his old classmate Dinesh Gunawardena at the PM’s Office last Monday.

The President conveyed to the PM that he will make arrangements to shift his office somewhere else soon and assured him that he will be leaving behind a capable team for the PM to work with.

The Cabinet meeting was also held on the same day at the PM’s Office and the main point of discussion was the country’s ongoing fuel crisis.

Health alert

On Wednesday, the President met the Health Minister and top officials in the health sector to inquire at length about the preparations to face a possible spread of monkeypox and the re-emergence of Covid-19.

He then inquired from health authorities on the measures being put in place to curb the spread of the respective viruses.

“There is nothing to worry sir, we have everything in place,” they said.

However, President Wickremesinghe was not too happy with that answer and had instructed them to take measures with the coordination of the laboratories in the country and make sure those are well equipped.

The President spent time on Tuesday and Thursday at the Finance Ministry and was engaged in his work at the Presidential Secretariat on Wednesday. At the Finance Ministry, the President met the Government Parliamentary Group and spoke about the impending Emergency Debate to be held in the House.

The President headed off to Kandy over the weekend to seek the blessings of the two prelates of the Asgiriya and Malwathu Chapters.         

Prorogued

President Wickremesinghe prorogued Parliament with effect from midnight Thursday (28) by issuing an Extraordinary Gazette.

The next session of Parliament will commence at 10:30 am on 3 August 2022 (Wednesday), according to the gazette notification.

The President has prorogued Parliament by virtue of the powers vested in him by Article 70 of the Constitution. With the signing of the gazette notification, the current session of the 9th Parliament ended.

Since 1947, Parliament had been prorogued over fifty times and under the 1978 Constitution, more than 25 new parliamentary sessions had been held.

Once Parliament is prorogued, the Speaker will continue and his duties will not end. Accordingly, the duty that has to be carried out from the new term will be able to proceed from the current stage.

When the term ends and a new session begins, it is ceremonially opened by the President. The President has the power to present the Policy Statement of the Government. In the past, it was called the Throne Speech and was presented by the Governor. According to the present practice, it is neither debated nor put to a vote.

Missing flags

The operations of the Presidential Secretariat, which had been at a standstill for about 100 days, resumed last Monday (25).

Following the protests staged in the close proximity of the Secretariat demanding former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down, the operations of the Presidential Secretariat had been suspended.

The armed forces and the Police forcibly removed the tents erected near the Presidential Secretariat in the wee hours of 22 July, a day after Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected as the President. 

However, the security of the Secretariat and the surrounding areas have been beefed up, deploying Police and armed forces to prevent any unfavourable incidents.

Meanwhile, about 40 flags that were placed in the Presidential Palace, to represent the Kings and Presidents who ruled Sri Lanka in the past, as well as those of foreign leaders, have been stolen.

According to a senior Police Officer, these flags, which have been preserved since the time of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British, are of great antique value.

He said as a result, future generations will be unable to see these flags, and that every President who has ruled this country has protected these flags and other historical artefacts.

He also said these flags and artefacts were taken away by those who stormed the President’s House along with activists and visitors.

According to reports, a thorough investigation is underway to locate the missing flags and artefacts. Meanwhile, the damage to the President’s House is extensive, and is yet to be formally assessed. However, the CID and other Police teams have identified approximately 100 people who damaged and stole items from the President’s House, Temple Trees, the Presidential Secretariat, and Prime Minister’s Office.

Information on these individuals is presently being gathered by Investigation and Intelligence Officers, and following investigations, the suspects will be arrested and evidence will be presented in Court.

Concerns on increased arrests

Various local as well as international organisations have raised concerns as the law enforcing authorities have increased crackdowns on ‘leaders’ of the Aragalaya. One of the founders of GotaGoGama, Pathum Kerner was arrested and protesters claimed that authorities have also stepped up efforts to arrest key figures of the Aragalaya who are calling for the resignation of President Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Government. This includes Catholic priest and activist Fr. Amila Jeewantha Peiris, and the questioning of the media and journalists.

Kerner was arrested by the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) on Thursday (28) in connection with the public protest that was held near Parliament on 13 July and the unruly incidents that occurred at the entry road to Parliament near the Polduwa Junction during the public protest against the Government, urging the resignation of Rajapaksa. According to Police, he had been summoned by the CCD on 18 July. However, he had notified via his Attorney that he was unable to appear before the CCD, due to ill health.

Meanwhile, the Colombo Fort Magistrate issued arrest warrants on activists Lahiru Weerasekara and Venerable Tampitiye Sugathananda Thera over their failure to attend a Court proceeding. When a case pertaining to unlawful public assembly was heard, Weerasekara and Sugathananda Thera did not appear in Court. Thus, the Police prayed the Court to issue an arrest warrant on the two.

Meanwhile, the Digital Journalists’ Collective claimed that Police Officers came to the Xposure News media station on Wednesday (27) afternoon and questioned several journalists. In a statement, they said the suppression of the media under President Wickremesinghe and the Government should be stopped immediately.

“At present, journalists and social media activists are facing serious threats including arrests, assaults, and abductions. The authorities are also pressuring Xposure News. Police Officers who came to the entrance of the Xposure News media house showed some photos to the security and asked if those people were staying at the premises, and also asked to check the CCTV footage, and left saying that they would come back later.” Three of the journalists who were badly beaten while reporting on the military attack launched on 22 July at Galle Face are journalists working under this agency.

IGP at fault

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) revealed that IGP C.D. Wickramaratne was in breach of duty by failing to provide adequate protection to the peaceful protesters on 9 May and to uphold the rule of law.

The HRCSL had appointed a team of Special Rapporteurs to investigate and report on whether adequate protection had been given to the peaceful protesters, protesting opposite Temple Trees and Galle Face and whether the Law Enforcement officials took all reasonable steps necessary to uphold the rule of law on 9 May.

ln conducting the investigation, the Commission of Inquiry had summoned a number of officers of the Police Department, including the IGP and Senior Officers of the Police, the Army Commander, the Senior Officers of the State Intelligence Unit, while also calling for CCTV footage and all documentary evidence.

It was revealed that the Police could not accurately ascertain the speeches of the Parliamentarians and the other State and non-State officials inside Temple Trees and that the failure to obtain this crucial information was attributed to the Intelligence Unit under the Defence Secretary.

“The State Intelligence Unit, once equipped with all the information relevant to the security of the people, must relay it to the lGP, who will then communicate it to his officers. Although the officers appear to have been briefed by the IGP of an impending attack, by the pro-governmental crowd, the miscalculation or erroneous information received by the IGP appears to have later contributed to this violent attack,” HRCSL said.

They added that it is also conceded that there was an inherent duty of the senior officers on the ground to address the situation, but it was subject to the final supervision of the lGP.

“As a matter of principle, in any hierarchical structure, whether Police or Military or Governmental or political, it is, of course, possible and even necessary that the Head of Department delegates decision-making authority to his subordinates. They are typically ‘on the ground’ closer to the unfolding events and facts. They typically have specialised in their respective sector, which the Head of Department does not have. However, what cannot be delegated is the ultimate responsibility of the Head of Department, in this case, the lGP, for everything that happens under his watch, including the actions or non-actions of his subordinates,” HRCSL added.

Citing the report, HRCSL observed that it is also apparent and absolute that, in this case, the SDlGs, DIGS and SSPs including Western Province SDIG Deshabandu Tennakoon and all other senior officers who were on duty, must obey and implement orders or directives given by their superior, the lGP.

“It is certainly not proper, perhaps even illegal, if the ‘Superior Officer in Charge’, in this case, Tennakoon consults directly with the Chief of his Chief, the President, without first consulting or reverting back to his direct superior the lGP, adding that this would disrupt the whole hierarchical system of the chain of command and has undoubtedly the potential to disrupt the whole operation,” HRCSL said.

The investigation revealed that Tennakoon, when he received instructions from the IGP through another officer over the telephone, had called the IGP before he called the President. Therefore, it is conceded that the call to the President by SDIG Tennakoon in this instance was legal and proper.

“ln these circumstances, as elicited in the report, the IGP was clearly in breach of duty by failing to provide adequate protection to the peaceful protesters and to uphold the rule of law,” HRCSL further said.

The team recommended that the President directs an investigation into this aspect of the matter and take necessary steps to ensure that such actions by the Head of the Police Department will not occur in the future.

It was also recommended for the President to direct an investigation into the lapse on the part of all the senior Police Officers, including the IGP downwards, who were on duty at the protest sites in Colombo for their inability to provide adequate protection to the peaceful protesters on 9 May.

HRCSL pointed out that if victims can be identified, the Police have to adequately compensate them for the injuries suffered.

SLFP willing to cooperate

Chairman of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), former President Maithripala Sirisena has informed President Ranil Wickremesinghe that his party would support the proposal to form an All-Party Government and will work with him to form one.

He said he submitted a proposal to President Wickremesinghe, which included the formation of an All-Party Government. He said, accordingly, the President informed them that he would meet the SLFP group in two weeks.

The SLFP representatives met President Wickremesinghe to discuss the proposal to form an All-Party Government on Thursday (28).

Speaking to the media after the meeting, Sirisena said the proposal he presented to Wickremesinghe included the formation of a national assembly and enacting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Sirisena said there was a lengthy discussion about the points raised in that proposal.

In addition, the SLFP also suggested to the President that he meet with religious leaders and prepare a special programme on taking of decisions to address the country’s economic, political, and social crises, as well as the petroleum and LP gas crises and to calm the people’s restlessness and impulsiveness.

Sirisena said in order to obtain international aid for the country’s recovery, all parties should be called and an All-Party Government formed.

“It is the decision of the President to form an All-Party Government. It is his responsibility to invite all members from all political parties,” he said.

SLPP crisis deepens

The implementation of Emergency Regulations is in contravention of the policies of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), Party Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris said.

He added that the declaration is also against the Fundamental Rights of the public, as there are sufficient laws to ensure public security, the protection of public order, and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community.

Prof. Peiris said Emergency Regulations were irrelevant and paves the way for the implementing of ulterior motives that are not beneficial to the public. He added that he thereby voted against the Regulations.

The Emergency Regulations were approved in Parliament on 27 July, with a majority of 57 votes. A total of 120 MPs voted in favour of the Emergency Regulations, while 63, including Prof. Peiris, Dullas Alahapperuma, Dilan Perera, and a few others in the same camp voted against the regulations.

Alahapperuma, also said the Government should uphold the constitutional rights of the public, adding that Emergency Regulations will undermine these rights.

Meanwhile, SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said some SLPP MPs are conspiring to achieve their political aspirations. He added that they have also succeeded in making use of the economic crisis for political benefit.

Kariyawasam added that several in the ruling party tried to deprive the SLPP of its majority and they had written to former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to step down. Such efforts were with the ulterior motive of bringing forth a separate political agenda, he said.

In response to the criticism levelled against him by the Chairman of the party, Prof. G.L. Peiris, over a statement issued that the SLPP would support newly-appointed President Ranil Wickremesinghe during the Parliamentary vote, Kariyawasam said the decision to support Wickremesinghe was backed by a majority in the party.

He added that a party meeting was held where a consensus was arrived at to support a suitable MP to take the office of President and to refrain from nominating a candidate from the SLPP. However, Prof. Peiris could not attend the meeting.

Kariyawasam also denied allegations that the SLPP has split, adding that certain persons have different views, either without a clear understanding, or have been misled or are involved in a conspiracy. The SLPP looks forward to work together with those in the party who have no intention to join the conspiracy, he added.

He said former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to step down due to conspirators, adding however that the truth will unfold with time and the public will regret at that point.