ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s embattled coalition survived the most serious threat to its survival so far after a last ditch compromise Thursday that saw Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s authority reduced substantially.
Coalition leaders blamed their downfall on Wickremesinghe’s Royal College cabal, including premier’s blue-eyed boy Sagala Ratnayaka, the minister of Law and Order, who is accused of failing to prosecute members of the former regime.
Even as calls mounted on the Prime Minister to sack Ratnayaka, he himself told cabinet ministers that he was willing to step down, government spokesman and co-cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters in Colombo.
Senaratne and his spokesman colleague Gayantha Karunathilaka confirmed that Ratnayaka’s departure was welcomed by other cabinet minister who saw him as the main stumbling block in arresting high profile suspects.
Ministers said Ratnayaka was accused of protecting former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and had blocked attempts by the CID to arrest him. A coordinating secretary of Ratnayaka was also blamed for leaking sensitive information about CID investigations to a former police chief who faces imminent arrest over his involvement in the Lasantha Wickrematunga assassination.
The cabinet has had its light hearted moments despite tension over the future of the coalition. Several ministers suggested that the law and order ministry be given to Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka to sort out the high profile individuals evading arrest thanks to alleged “deals” with seniors in the current administration.
"If we put Fonseka in charge of the police, the Rajapaksas will run to the loo," one minister said. "He (Fonseka) could be a loose cannon, but will clean up the mess,” another added.
The President said he wanted to elevate coalition trouble-shooter and deputy minister Ranjan Ramanayake and asked if he could be the minister of women’s affairs to which Ramanayake said he was already well versed with the subject!
Crisis talks between President Sirisena and Wickremesinghe saw the two sides agreeing to continue with their uneasy coalition, but with some changes in the cabinet, the two cabinet spokesmen said.
Sirisena’s United people’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was gung-ho on Wednesday night about their prospects of forming a UPFA/Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) government without the UNP.
UPFA General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera said they secured agreement with former president Mahinda Rajapakse that his faction of 56 members of parliament will support Sirisena to form a government, but without accepting cabinet posts.
However, Sirisena and his allies were brought down to earth when senior aides told them that the 19th amendment to the constitution did not give the president the power to sack Wickremesinghe.
With the administration set to continue without any change in its National Government, it is not clear if Minister Amaraweera and his followers will agree to remain in the government.
It is not clear what Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera will do after he declared on Wednesday night that he will not be in a cabinet under Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.
There was no way for the UPFA to prove it had a simple majority of 113 required to topple Wickremesinghe. The UPFA with the Rajapaksa faction has only 96 members, 17 seats short of a simple majority.
The UPFA can, however, bank on two UNP defectors — Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha and Ven. Athuraliye Ratana — but still way short of 113 seats.
President Sirisena is widely expected to announce a new cabinet on Friday after he holds consultations with Wickremesinghe and Senaratne, the key power broker, at a meeting on Thursday evening.
A few SLFP/UPFA ministers are expected to be dropped while a few new faces are likely to be inducted.
"Ranil has survived the latest attempt to topple him, but he will be at the mercy of senior ministers who will in future have more authority," a ministerial source said.
He said one of the first tasks of the new cabinet will be to sort out the mess at Sri Lankan airlines where the chairman appointed by Wickremesinghe has been ignoring the cabinet as well as the minister in charge.
"The cabinet summoned the entire Sri Lankan board and asked them tough questions, but we are yet to get replies to some of queries," minister Senaratne said.
He said the arrogant behaviour of the Sri Lankan board had also contributed to the decline of the UNP vote in addition to the bond scam triggered by Wickremesinghe’s appointment of Arjuna Mahendra as Central Bank governor against cabinet advise. (COLOMBO, February 15, 2018)