ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s President has shot down speculation that he is “cutting a political deal” with a powerful Muslim politician to get his support for a Parliamentary vote which will pass Constitutional changes giving him sweeping authoritarian powers.
Earlier this afternoon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa posted on his official Facebook page that “ensuring national security is the first and foremost responsibility of my government. I emphasize that our government has not entered into any political deal with Parliament member Rishad Badurdeen (sic).”
Bathiudeen (corrected spelling) is a controversial Muslim Member of Parliament whose brother Riyard Bathiudeen, has been alleged to have links to the extremist groups that bombed three churches and three Hotels on Easter Sunday 2019 killing nearly 300 people.
Groups supporting President Rajapaksa have vilified Bathiudeen as a terrorist in a sustained campaign through the Presidential elections and the recently concluded Parliamentary poll.
The President’s Social Media post follows a press conference by Sri Lanka’s most prominent Christian prelate, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Colombo on Saturday in which he said he was “astounded and dismayed” that a powerful Muslim politician’s brother detained under special laws for his alleged part in the Easter Sunday attacks has been set free.
Ranjith said he cannot comprehend how a person who the “police said had dealings with the Easter bombers, did business with them and engaged in discussions with them is suddenly found to be entirely innocent and released unconditionally.”
At his press conference, Ranjith played back a recording of an interview the Police Spokesman Superintendent Jaliya Senaratne did with a prominent pro-government private Television channel in which the police said that the person recently released had “close dealings” with the bombers.
“Seeing this the victims of the attacks, who are my flock, are disturbed at this turn of events as many are still crippled by their injuries. They are expecting justice and fairness from those who are ruling the country. But recent events have given rise to a reasonable suspicion that this may not happen,” Ranjith said.
Ranjith wondered aloud whether the government was cutting a “political deal” with Bathiudeen to get his support for the controversial 20th Amendment to the Constitution and therefore releasing brother from detention.
In what appeared to be an indirect riposte, President Rajapaksa said “I am not prepared to hand over the power of arresting or arbitrarily releasing people to politicians, as happened in the past. I assure my citizens that I will not forsake the trust that they have placed in me and I will most certainly continue to work towards strengthening the trust we have built” the President said.
Adding fuel to the fire was an event that took place October 2 where Bathiudeen was seen at a ceremony held in Vavuniya talking and smiling with State Minister of Defence Chamal Rajapaksa, the eldest member of Sri Lanka’s leading political family.
He denied that Bathiudeen, whom his party attacked during the campaign, was there to negotiate but only as a representative of the people.
“There was no talk of the 20th Amendment, I do not consider the narrow-minded who may see it that way,” he said. (Colombo October 4, 2020)