Caught between former President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the one hand and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on the other, Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena has reached a point of no return. The coalition of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United Nation Party, which pitchforked Sirisena into the President’s chair, is in tatters.
The President is unsure who all were plotting his downfall. Amidst this gathering anti-Sirisena storm, he got embroiled in a blame-game of accusing India’s external intelligence agency RAW of plotting to assassinate him without a shred of evidence. As if to buttress the charge, Mahinda Amaraweera, vice president of the SLFP and Minister for Agriculture, said four members of the Cabinet were spies of RAW. The allegation was made at a Cabinet meeting on the eve of Wickremesinghe’s visit to New Delhi and leaked to both the local and foreign media.
Retracting the charge officially, Sirisena called Prime Minister Narendra Modi and denied it vehemently and blamed the media for spreading rumours. Modi is reported to have conveyed to Sirisena that when there were such issues, he should have reached out to him directly. He also expressed his concern that several projects agreed upon by the two countries and were scheduled to begin in 2017 had not yet got off the ground. At the Cabinet meeting, where Sirisena made the explosive disclosure on RAW, Wickremesinghe requested the President to allow India, which has 20 per cent stake in the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port, to start construction. The President said he would not allow any “outside party.”
The Shipping Minister said the Memorandum of Understanding signed with India was invalid and that the Sri Lanka Ports Authority would finance the project. China is running one of the terminals. Eighty per cent of Colombo Port’s business is trans-shipment to India. Earlier, Sirisena had called off the India-funded 500 MW Sampur power project in the Tamil-majority Eastern Province.
Although the SLFP-UNP was voted to power on an anti-Rajapaksa platform, Sirisena’s immediate priority is to replace Wickremesinghe with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. Sirisena was a Minister in Rajapaksa’s government.
The two had a secret meeting recently in this connection. Should this happen, the government, which will be totally lacking of the people’s mandate, will be run by the former President who could not seek a third term due to constitutional restrictions.
The UNP, meanwhile, is trying to get the support of seven more MPs so that it can form a government of its own. In this power struggle in Sri Lanka, the Modi government continues to be on the Rajapaksa-Sirisena side. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition government has a year and a half to complete its term. Indications are it could collapse any time. The Sri Lankan government has sought Chinese help to enquire into the alleged plot to assassinate Modi. (The Statesmen)