Sri Lanka’s Maithri, Mahinda talks signal bad news for Ranil
COLOMBO – (EconomyNext) The much awaited talks between President Maithripala Sirisena and his arch rival predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa ended without a deal Wednesday, but the meeting triggered deep anxiety within the ruling ranks.
The talking partners did not issue formal statements after the hour-long meeting at the parliamentary complex, but official sources said the first encounter since the January 8 election did not go too well.
Spokesman for Rajapaksa, former Youth Affairs minister Dullas Alahapperuma, said the main objective of the meeting was to strengthen the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and ensure that they could form the next government.
"We discussed five points, including the next prime minister to ensure that we form a UPFA (United people’s Freedom Alliance) government after the next elections," Alahapperuma told reporters.
He said the Rajapaksa faction also demanded the abolition of the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID) which was set up by the new government recently to probe mega-scale frauds and misappropriation of public funds.
"The President agreed to rescind the gazette notification setting up the FCID," Alahapperuma said. However, the government officials denied any such undertaking had been given.
With several high profile individuals already in remand custody and many more due to be prosecuted shortly, the FCID has been a major thorn on the side of Rajapaksa’s immediate family and his inner circle.
Government minister Duminda Dissanayake said Wednesday’s talks were "successful," but gave no details.
Both sides had agreed to meet again but have not decided on a date for the next meet.
In the meantime, the latest development has sent shock waves through the ruling United National Party which is increasingly losing its grip on power.
Despite several attempts to issue statements through juniors of the government calling for an immediate parliamentary election to end the instability, Sirisena has been refusing to dissolve parliament.
Sirisena had in his 100-day program promised to end the term of the current parliament on April 23, but has not explained why he has not kept the deadline which is now being pushed by a few more months.
Highly placed sources said that visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry had asked Sirisena twice when he will call fresh elections and the answer had been: "there will be a new government by September."
Earlier, Sirisena had told senior aides that a dissolution of parliament can come after Kerry leaves and any event it would happen soon after Vesak.
In fact, Sirisena had recently questioned some of his aides why they did not call a parliamentary election soon after the January 8 presidential victory. That meant, the president was keen to go along with the UNP government and call an election that would be advantageous to the Prime Minister’s party, but he appears to have had a change of heart.
The sources said Sirisena during talks with Kerry last weekend refused to commit to a date to call elections although the top US diplomat went public suggesting that there will be elections in Sri Lanka "this summer."
It is fast turning out to be a mid-summer nightmare for Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who is likely to be edged out in the event of Sirisena committing to ensure a UPFA government after the next election.
Despite the bonhomie shown in photographs released by President Sirisena’s office of him and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe attending Vesak events together, the two are ideologically miles apart, according to sources close to both.
"They are no longer on the same page," a top source said. "The honeymoon period is over."