President breaks his silence; gives an earful to critics with sharp and strong emphasis
Vows he still stands against Rajapaksa; Predicts Rajapaksa will be defeated in August poll
Pledges to remain neutral, support conduct of free and fair election
Rejects idea of giving Rajapaksa premiership; says many better SLFP leaders
President Maithripala Sirisena
By Dharisha Bastians
President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday broke a 10-day silence in a special address, saying he was strongly opposed to his predecessor contesting in the 17 August parliamentary election and hailing democratic conditions prevailing in the country that allowed stinging criticism against a head of state that he had endured over the past week.
“I strongly disagreed with giving Mahinda Rajapaksa nominations for the election,” Sirisena said in his address.
Making his address at the Presidential Secretariat late last evening, Sirisena predicted that Mahinda Rajapaksa would lose the election next month.
“Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was defeated on 8 January, will be defeated again,” President Sirisena said.
“I don’t need to read the stars to know that, the future can be predicted based on history,” he said.
The remarks appeared to be a slap in the face of the former President, who told Reuters on Monday that he and President Sirisena would be leading the election campaign to form a SLFP-led Government after the poll.
President Sirisena also rejected Rajapaksa’s bid to be appointed Premier after the election. “There are plenty of SLFP leaders more suitable to be Prime Minister than Mahinda Rajapaksa,” the President charged during his speech.
The address was also the first time President Sirisena also publicly admitted that he had been battling former President Rajapaksa internally for control of the party.
“If I had resigned as party leader, anyone Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted could have been included as candidates of the UPFA. If I had resigned as party leader over the nomination issues Mahinda Rajapaksa would have taken back control of both the SLFP and the UPFA within seconds,” the President said.
Sirisena admitted that he was in the minority within the political alliance that constitutes the UPFA. “Every other party leader in the alliance was supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa’s candidacy. Only I stood against it. But if I quit the party chairmanship, Mahinda Rajapaksa would have taken the party back within seconds, persecuted my loyalists and filled the candidate list with his cronies,” President Sirisena charged.
The President said that he had tried to explain to the party that if it fields Rajapaksa, the SLFP would be unable to command the votes of Tamil and Muslim communities.
President Sirisena also revealed a plot to bring Mahinda Rajapaksa to Parliament on the national list after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who was heading a minority government which was defeated through a no faith motion. “I managed to stop that. I dissolved parliament to prevent the Government from collapsing,” Sirisena said.
His minority Government had been like the Titanic, President Sirisena quipped.
“The Titanic sank. I did not allow the Government to sink. I dissolved Parliament,” he said.
Public outrage directed at him for granting the nomination to Rajapaksa, appeared to have wounded the President.
“No other President has been attacked the way I have in the past two weeks – today they call me traitor and villain. This is a sign that democracy’s floodgates have been open,” President Sirisena said.
Emphasising the new freedoms the press was enjoying under his six-month rule President Sirisena said if the attacks had taken place before 8 January, the whole country would know what would have happened to those expressing the views.
"Criticism is an important aspect of a democracy. I applaud those who criticise me," the President said.
“My opposition to Mahinda Rajapaksa stands,” Sirisena said in answer to his critics who have accused the President of striking a ‘deal’ with his predecessor. “There are no dealings between Mahinda Rajapaksa and I. I will not rollback the January 8 mandate,” he pledged.
He also defended his decision to take over the reins of his party. If Mahinda Rajapaksa had continued to lead the SLFP after the presidential elections, his constitutional reforms to curb the powers of the presidency and restore independence to state sector appointments would not have been possible, President Sirisena said.
Sirisena said he had no interest in which party won the August poll.
“My only hope is to have a majority of MPs in the new Parliament will support his 8 January mandate for reform,” the President said.
He pledged to remain neutral at the August election. “I will support the elections commissioner, the police force and public officials to conduct a free and fair election,” the President promised.
Mahinda Rajapaksa handed in nominations on Monday to contest in the Kurunegala District north west of the island, Sri Lanka’s third most populous district to raise his claim for Prime Minister if the UPFA wins the polls.
Timely message by Maithri
“Sirisena delivered a timely message and neutralised the campaign of the corrupt Rajapaksa,” Keerthi Tennakoon, the executive director of Campaign for Free and Fair Election told Reuters. “Now most of Rajapaksa’s supporters will try to dissociate from him.”