New President Maithripala Sirisena invited exiled dissidents back to Sri Lanka and promised to end censorship on Saturday as he began to turn the page on the authoritarian rule of his toppled predecessor.
A day after his shock victory over veteran incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sirisena began assembling a cabinet to deliver his pledges to repair the war-scarred nation’s diplomatic standing and implement a raft of reforms.
Sirisena, who was sworn in Friday evening after ending Rajapaksa’s decade-long rule, was trying to form a “national unity” cabinet that would include members from a cross section of parties, an aide said.
“He will name some ministers next week and the balance after the pope’s visit,” from Jan.13 to 15, said Sirisena’s top aide Rajitha Senaratne, who is tipped to become health minister.
He said that Sirisena has ordered the immediate lifting of censorship on dissident websites, an end to phone tapping, surveillance of journalists and politicians, and the establishment of a right to information law.
There was also an invitation to dozens of Sri Lankan journalists and other dissidents who have fled the country fearing attack from the previous administration to “come back immediately.”
“From now on, you have the freedom to criticise us. We will take strong action against anyone who tries to undermine media freedom,” Senaratne told reporters in Colombo.
Sirisena had promised a 100-day programme to carry out urgent political and economic reforms, including moves to cut back on the powers of the president that Rajapaksa gave himself during a decade in office. Although there was no word from the new president himself on Saturday, Sirisena is expected to make an address to the nation from the historic hill resort of Kandy on Sunday.
Shortly after being sworn in, Sirisena appointed parliamentary opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as his prime minister.
Wickremesinghe, who is expected to wield considerable power, is seen as having significantly better relations with the West and regional powerhouse India than Rajapaksa.
In a previous stint as prime minister between 2002 and 2004, he managed to secure international support for a peace process designed to end the island’s long-running Tamil separatist conflict. (AFP)