Rishad revolts!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014 01:55 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • President loses his Industry and Commerce Minister in mass defection of Muslims 
  • UPFA Govt. loses two-thirds majority in Parliament 
  • New UPFA National List MP Ameer Ali snubs Govt., supports Opposition 
  • Maithripala says 7 PC members and 69 local councillors from ACMC have quit ruling coalition
  • Slams religious violence as Buddhist hardliners strike serious blow to Govt. campaign

  By Dharisha Bastians For the first time in four years, the ruling UPFA coalition lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament with the high-profile exit of Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, who pledged his party’s support to Common Opposition Candidate Maithripala Sirisena yesterday.                           Ameer Ali, who was recently awarded a UPFA National List seat in a bid to appease the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), a constituent member of the ruling alliance, also quit the Government in an apparent snub. Staunch Government ally A.H.M. Azwer resigned his Parliament seat to make way for Ali earlier this month. The defection could prove a heavy blow to the incumbent campaign, which is already believed to be struggling to secure a part of the minority vote at the 8 January election.   The two MPs were received at the Opposition Leader’s Residence by common candidate Sirisena, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.  “Only MP Azwer is missing now,” the UNP Leader Wickremesinghe quipped, as key Opposition campaign leaders posed with the two ACMC members.   The ruling alliance has lost 15 Parliamentarians to the Opposition since snap elections were announced on 20 November. The departure of Bathiudeen and Ali brings the UPFA’s seats in Parliament down to 149, one seat short of a two-thirds majority, or 150 seats in the 225-seat Legislature.  Bathiudeen blamed his departure on hardline groups he said had been engaged in spreading discord among communities in the country after the end of the war.   Praising Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s role in preventing anti-Muslim riots from spreading after the Aluthgama clashes, the ex-Industries Minister told a media briefing last evening that pleas made to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the security establishment to end the violence and punish perpetrators had fallen on deaf ears.  The ex-Minister and Mannar District strongman called the Aluthgama riots targeting Muslim homes and businesses a ‘well-planned’ attack.   “You all know about the incidents in Aluthgama. This was a well-planned attack. We all knew it was going to happen. We asked them to stop it. But still it was allowed to happen,” Bathiudeen told journalists at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo. “As a Cabinet Minister, at those times I spoke to President Rajapaksa and the security establishment, pleading with them to stop these religious attacks. We asked them to punish those causing these tensions. These groups were never punished,” he explained.   The Muslim Minister claimed the Economic Development Minister had stayed up all night in June, tirelessly working to stop the riots from spreading to other areas. “For 30 years all the communities of this country have suffered. People are trying to live in peace now. These hardline groups are trying to hinder this peace for their own agendas,” Bathiudeen charged. He said Sirisena’s manifesto made clear that he would ensure religious harmony and implement justice and the rule of law in the country.   Welcoming his former Ministerial colleague, Sirisena hailed Bathiudeen as a skilled and talented Minister. “All communities and religions are reconciling as we unite to rebuild this country with the common candidacy,” he said. The UNP Leader said Bathiudeen was joining the Opposition movement when the campaign was gaining great momentum in all parts of the island. Former President Kumaratunga assured the ACMC MPs that the Muslims would not see a repeat of the tragic incidents of the recent past under the new Government to be formed on 8 January 2015.   “We can assure the Muslims that their rights will be protected and they will have equal rights to live together with all communities,” said the ex-President, who has been a champion of religious freedom in the recent past.  The ACMC’s support is a big win for the UNP-led Opposition campaign and signals more problems in the Northern and Eastern Provinces for the Rajapaksa campaign. Bathiudeen has helped the Government’s chances in the Mannar District, which has a significant Muslim population.   Bathiudeen’s exit was uncertain after the ACMC was believed to have taken a Government deal to accept a National List Parliament seat two weeks ago. However, sources said that recent fisticuffs between the Muslim Minister and UPFA MP Sri Ranga at Temple Trees may have hastened the ACMC’s departure from the ruling alliance.