ECONOMYNEXT: President Maithripala Sirisena, who is facing intense criticism over accommodating his nemesis Mahinda Rajapaksa in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), appears to have made a second U-turn in as many days.
President Sirisena reportedly agreed to name former strongman Rajapaksa as a UPFA candidate to face the August 17 parliamentary election, but even 24 hours after the initial announcement, he himself remained silent.
However, Buddhist monk Maduluwawe Sobitha, a key figure responsible for Sirisena’s victory at January 8 vote, told reporters that he spoke with the president who claimed he was unaware of Rajapaksa getting a UPFA ticket.
"He says "mama danne na" ( I don’t know)," the monk told reporters. "Lets wait for him to make a statement."
In his first public address after reports of former president’s candidature from the UPFA, President Sirisena insisted that he will not undermine the mandate he received for change at the January election.
"I want to stress, I will not allow anyone to dash the hopes of the people who contributed to that silent revolution that made me president on January 8 this year," he said while launching work on the E-1 express way extension.
Addressing a gathering at Matara on Saturday, the President said he was working closely with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the cabinet of ministers to bring about the change that the electorate voted for in January.
He notably avoided referring to the UPFA and spoke only about being the leader of the SLFP — the Sri Lanka Freedom Party — which is the main constituent party of the UPFA.
He stressed that his decisions as the leader of the SLFP were aimed at protecting the mandate he received in January.
"I take all decisions to protect and foster the silent revolution that we brought about on the 8th of January," he said triggering applause.
He praised Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera for helping change the image of Sri Lanka in the eyes of the international community and said the country was now able to access investments and assistance from all nations.
"We know the image we had before January 8, the foreign ministry was under the control of a street thug," the President said. "We have changed all that and we are treated as a respected member of the international community thanks to the efforts of minister Samaraweera."
Social media which strongly campaigned for Sirisena at the last election had by this week turned completely against him after reports that former president was going to stand for elections from the UPFA.
"You betrayed 6.2 million voters," said one post on Facebook. Many described Sirisena in language that cannot be printed.
A more charitable headline said: "Maithri Undergoes Spine Removal Surgery after U Turn Tragedy."
Meanwhile, political sources said Friday’s announcement by loyalists of Rajapaksa suggests that they had hijacked the UPFA and that Sirisena was powerless in the face of a major coup within the main opposition.
UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha was rumoured to have cut a deal with Rajapaksa to give them UPFA nominations. Sirisena is now expected to lead a separate group at the August polls under the SLFP.
However, even within the SLFP, Sirisena suffered a setback today with party treasurer, S. B. Navinna, a leader from the North Western Province which is also known as Wayamba, defecting to the UNP.
"I warmly welcome S.B Nawinna to UNP," party leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on twitter. "A seasoned campaigner, he will play a vital role in Wayamba."
Incidentally, former president Rajapaksa is tipped to enter the parliamentary fray from Wayamba after dropping plans to cintest from Gampaha, the home constituency of former president Chandrika Kumaratunga.