COLOMBO – (EconomyNext) The talks with Mahinda Rajapaksa has seriously dented President Maithripala Sirisena’s image as a reformist and put him on a collision course with the United National Party (UNP) which propelled him to power.
Top UNP officials said it was "outrageous" that Sirisena should sit together with his arch rival, ex-president Rajapaksa, to discuss strengthening their Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which had done its best to defeat him.
"It was outrageous," a UNP official said adding that Sirisena had hurt his own image in the eyes of an electorate which had banked on him to reform the constitution and bring back decent politics.
A political source at the hour-long meeting in parliament said there were tense moments during the discussions when Rajapaksa nearly got up to walk away when they failed to agree on his nomination as PM candidate.
"At one point the President told Mahinda that he can leave if he wanted to and there is nothing further for them to discuss," the source said asking not to be named. "There was acrimony over nominations of Mahinda as well as others of his family (at parliamentary elections)."
The uneasy meeting could be the last encounter between the two, the source said. Rajapaksa loyalists said they broke up the meeting without an agreement on another date for talks.
Sirisena’s attempt to cut a deal with those still loyal to Rajapaksa is seen as an attempt to undermine UNP’s prime ministerial candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe at an election that should be held soon.
Despite UNP’s repeated calls for an early election, Sirisena is seen as going against his own April 9 pledge in Polonnaruwa to dissolve parliament soon after getting the 19th amendment passed through parliament.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told reporters at the UNP headquarters Thursday that they wanted a quick election soon after agreeing to electoral reforms which are demanded by the SLFP.
Parliament is due to reconvene on May 19 and Samaraweera said they would like to see the 20th amendment passed ion that day and parliament dissolved immediately thereafter.
Minister Samaraweera discounted SLFP claims that President Sirisena had agreed to rescind the gazette notification that set up the police Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) which secured the remanding of Basil Rajapaksa.
Samaraweera said to undo the FCID would be to go against the mandate of the electorate to investigate corruption.
He claimed the wealth of Rajapaksa and his immediate family was twice the value of the Employee Provident Fund.