Sri Lanka PM returns from India to fight fire

Ranil Wickremesinghe - Prime Minister of Sri Lanka

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe returned from a four-day Indian visit to battle a deepening rift between his party and President Maithripala that threatens to undermine their unity government.

The troubles erupted as Wickremesinghe left on Tuesday. State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe called a press conference at the United National Party (UNP) headquarters to express disappointment in the President.

As President Sirisena made his displeasure known to the UNP, the Premier began monitoring the situation from India, but even before he could rein in Senasinghe, there were more outbursts.

Since his return on Friday, the Prime Minister has been fire-fighting to defuse tensions on both sides, according to official sources.

As Wickremesinghe left on Tuesday, Senasinghe told a press conference at Sirikotha, the UNP headquarters, to accuse Sirisena of a conspiracy to destroy the UNP using the bond investigation.

The State Minister for International Trade said he wanted the President to probe bond auctions from 2008 to understand how the system had worked and expose the corruption under the Rajapaksa regime, but he ignored the call.

He was soon joined by UNP backbenchers who on Thursday told parliament that they were firing the first salvo against the President and would continue their agitation until local elections were held.

UNP MP Kavinda Jayawardena, the son of UNP stalwart late Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, blamed Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha for a fiasco in drawing electoral boundaries and causing delays.

The Court of Appeal has effectively suspended the local council vote due for late January by issuing an interim stay order against Musthapha’s gazette carving out the councils.

Musthapha was also accused of delaying tactics and deliberately issuing a flawed gazette in order to clear the way for a legal challenge that could hold up the elections.

“We have set an example with our (UNP) ministers stepping down when allegations were made against them. It is up to minister Musthapha also to resign,” Jayawardena said in parliament.

Another UNP backbencher, Thushara Indunil said the UNP should not have to take the blame for delaying the elections.

Indunil said even the parliamentary election was put off in 2015 to help President Sirisena consolidate his hold on the SLFP faction led by him, but as a result of the delay the UNP may have lost a few seats.

Indunil said the UNP will no longer tolerate the delay of local elections.

The election due in mid-2015 was delayed because the previous administration had failed to complete legislation to conduct local government polls under a hybrid system replacing proportional representation.

President Sirisena hit back on Friday warning UNP members of parliament against juvenile behaviour and said he was ready to step down if he was unfairly criticised.