A chill down its spine

By suddenly deposing Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointing an already ousted former Lankan President as the new PM, President Maithripala Srisena has engineered a political coup that instead of the expected turnaround of fortunes, has shocked the supportive US and Western powers and gave the Indian sub-continent a chill down its spine.

A special Government Gazette Notification stated that the President, under Article 42(4) of the Constitution appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa, Member of Parliament and former President, to the Office of Prime Minister with effect from October 26.

President Sirisena has skillfully ducked India and the Western democracies in a sly maneuver-but now risks loss of hard-won international victories for Sri Lanka such as the EU GSP Plus.

Also on the horizon for the already struggling Sri Lankan economy –hit by highest dollar exchange levels in history-are possible international economic sanctions, especially given that the new Prime Minister Rajapaksa carries a tainted record of civil-war allegations that are continuously shouted at by Geneva and the International Community in general.

Even a single international measure such as suspension of GSP Plus alone is sufficient to derail Sri Lanka’s international image, work on economic reforms and push back the country to a pariah status within the international community.

Soon after Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn on Friday 26 at 7.20 pm at the Presidential Secretariat, the UPFA had informed Speaker Karu Jayasuriya of its decision to quit the UNP-led National Unity Government.

Among those who accompanied Rajapaksa for the swearing-in ceremony were Basil Rajapaksa and Chairman of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Prof. G.L. Peiris but Namal Rajapaksa MP and Former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa were notable absentees.

One of the most disturbing events that unfolded in the aftermath of new swearing in were the forcible take-over of government media institutions by gangs backing the new PM Rajapaksa, showing signs of a real-time coup on the ground; as commotions began spreading inside the two state run TV stations (Rupavahini and ITN), the channels were switched off and went off the air way before their usual sign-off time. This was also the first time in recent Sri Lankan media history that such a forced end to national TV transmissions were seen-especially at a time when all the eyes were curiously glued to them to witness firsthand the unravelling political turmoil in the Capital.

In its first ever statement on the developments, the EU in Sri Lanka tweeted on 27 October afternoon: “The Ambassador of EU is closely following the events as they are unfolding in Sri Lanka. We urge all parties to fully act in accordance with Sri Lanka’s constitution, to refrain from violence, to follow the institutional process, to respect the independence of institutions, and freedom of media.”

After Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in, deposed Ranil Wickrwmasinghe insisted on 26th night that he was still the Prime Minister despite Rajapaksa’s swearing in. Addressing the media at Temple Trees, Wickremesinghe said that in terms of S. 40 (2) of the Constitution, he is still the Prime Minister and would function in that position, until he was removed by Parliament.

“The No – Confidence Motion brought against me on April 4 this year was defeated convincingly. So if anyone wants to oust me, he should go back to Parliament and show his majority in the House. Until such time I remain the Prime Minister.” Several western diplomats met UNP Leader Wickremesinghe on the afternoon of Saturday 27.

UNP Leader Wickremesinghe also sent a very terse letter addressed to the President the he is the Prime Minister of the country.

In the meantime, on 26th nigh at 10.35pm the Presidential Secretariat released one-page letter sent by President Sirisena to Wickremesinghe. President Sirisena said he had removed Wickremesinghe from the post of PM with immediate effect in terms of powers vested in him.

Subsequently, Extraordinary Government Gazettes published by the Secretary to the President Udaya R. Seneviratne on Friday (26) stated that the President in exercising powers conferred upon him under the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, has removed Ranil Wickremasinghe, who was appointed by the President under Article 42(4) of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka from the office of the Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, with immediate effect.

Which global power now backs President Sirisena?

On 26 October evening the 5-member All Ceylon Makkal Congress led by Rishad Bathiudeen MP met at Colombo residence of Deputy Minister Ameer Ali. After discussing the latest political developments, it is learnt the five Parliamentarians in the Party left for Temple Trees and met Ranil Wickremasingha and other UNP stalwarts.

‘Asian Tribune’ learns that already the government under the leadership of Maithripala Srisena has obtained a pledge from the Government of China for financial support, in case any financial emergencies would rise. This arrangement was said to have been made well in advance with China in case the US, India and other like-minded countries impose any sanctions against Sri Lanka.

However, India, a most important international voice on Sri Lanka, has been observing a deadly silence-an ominous sign for President Sirisena-PM Rajapaksa combine.

Response from the West

The United States too did not commit nor comment on the new appointment but called on Friday 26 ‘all sides in Sri Lanka to operate within the constitution and refrain from violence as the President’s sacking of the PM triggered a crisis.’

Washington also urged the island to move forward on post-war reconciliation after President Maithripala Sirisena Mahinda Rajapakse as PM, a former strongman who crushed the three decades’ long Tamil Tiger uprising but refused to acknowledge abuses. “We call on all parties to act in accordance with Sri Lanka’s constitution, refrain from violence and follow due process,” the State Department said on Twitter.

“We expect the government of Sri Lanka to uphold its Geneva commitments to human rights, reform, accountability, justice and reconciliation,” it said.

In its first ever statement on the developments, the EU in Sri Lanka tweeted on 27 October afternoon: “The Ambassador of EU is closely following the events as they are unfolding in Sri Lanka. We urge all parties to fully act in accordance with Sri Lanka’s constitution, to refrain from violence, to follow the institutional process, to respect the independence of institutions, and freedom of media.”

The travel warnings issued by the West in the aftermath of the coup, did little to help the tourism industry that needs more and more dollars.

After Sirisena’s election in 2015, Sri Lanka shifted from confrontation to conciliation with the United States and other Western powers and promised at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to investigate allegations of abuses during the war.

Sources close to President Maithripala Srisena revealed to ‘Asian Tribune’ that it was Basil Rajapaksa -new PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s sibling and the Powerful Economic Minister during Mahinda Rajapaksa government- who organized the ‘political coup’ to swear in Mahinda Rajapaksa while also ensuring that the newly sworn Prime Minister has more than 113 parliamentarians to support him.

On Saturday 27 October political sources including in Colombo UNP MP Ananda Aluthamage said that 18 UNP Parliamentarians led by a senior, leading UNP MP who was a top, high profile Cabinet Minister and has been at odds with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe after he was removed from the Ministry-would join President Sirisena-PM Rajapaksa camp and boost it, thus dealing a body-blow to UNP’s plans. “UNPs Ravi Karunanayake to lead a team of UNPers and join with the new government” said some local twitter users.

‘Asian Tribune’ left messages for Ravi Karunanayake to respond and unfortunately until such time this message was posted there was no response forthcoming from him,

Sources told ‘Asian Tribune’ that the SLFP group loyal to President Sirisena had unanimously decided to leave the government as a preparatory move for the October 27 coup. Sirisena enjoyed the support of 24 SLFP MPs. In addition to them, the President had the backing of two CWC MPs.

Still, elevating the ousted President Rajapaksa to PM level has not brought President Sirisena any great returns-no was he assured support by Rajapaksa’s “Joint Opposition” (JO). Wimal Weerawansa, a leading figure in JO declared on 27 afternoon- “There is no agreement between JO and President Sirisena to make him JO’s common candidate in the next Presidential election.”

However according to present position of the political parties in the in the 15th Parliament of Sri Lanka UNP has 107 MPs, UPFA 95 including the 2 CWC MPs, TNA 16, JVP 6, EPDP 1 and SLMC 1 – total of 225 parliamentarians.

The UNP group includes 7 SLMC, including the one elected on the SLMC ticket and five All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), MPs, JHU 2 and 2 in Dr.Rajitha Senaratne’s group.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is supportive to the UNP in parliament. It is not clear with whom JVP’s six members would align with.

Knowingly well, President Maithripala Srisena has raked the mud on his own head by his own two hands.

The cry started reverberating of international tribunal for all involved in anti-human activities – now it is something – the payment one has to pay for the greed nursed for Power and Authority. (Asian Tribune)

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