New Indian Express: President Maithripala Sirisena cancelled yesterday’s visit to Jaffna. A spokesman of the President told Express that “unscheduled meetings” in Colombo led to the cancellation.
“But he will be visiting Jaffna on January 25 or any other suitable date before that,” the spokesman added.
In Jaffna, he was to have inaugurated an island-wide mobile app facility to get in touch with the President and track the progress of requests through ministries and departments in the centre. He was also to release about 600 acres of private land presently held by the military.
The President may have been held back by the developing political situation in south Sri Lanka, with a resurgent former President Mahinda Rajapaksa vowing to overthrow the Sirisena-Wickemesinghe coalition Government in 2017.
The Joint Opposition group and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by Rajapaksa are gearing up for “frenetic political activity” to bring about a regime change this year.
With Sirisena group member Priyankara Jayaratne resigning from his post of State Minister, and another State Minister Palaitha Range Bandara wondering if there is any point in being a minister without work, the media has been speculating about more resignations from the UNP-SLFP coalition and crossovers to the Joint Opposition led by Rajapaksa.
With President Sirisena overturning many decisions of UNP ministers, UNP backbenchers in Parliament got worried about the President’s own commitment to the sustenance of the coalition Government and the prospects of Government parties in the local bodies and Provincial Council elections in 2017.
Thirty UNPers met the President last Friday in regard to this and the President assured them that he is committed to the coalition. Later, he publicly stated that he would not tolerate any party member or coalition partner having links with Rajapaksa.
However, several issues in the coalition remain unresolved. The latest is the disagreement over a deal the UNP-led Government has entered into with a Chinese State-owned company to manage the Hambantota port.
Disapproving the deal to give the Chinese company an 80% of the stake in the port for 99 years, the President recently appointed his own representative in the negotiating committee. Given this, there is speculation that he will not attend the 7 January signing ceremony, if it is held at all.
Unrest in north
Meanwhile, dissatisfaction and unrest are brewing in north Sri Lanka over the slow pace of post-war reconciliation mechanisms.
Briefing Express on the emerging situation, Northern Provincial Council (NPC) member M. K. Shivajilingam said that the President has not kept his promise to return private lands taken by the military during the war and after. According to Northern Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran, only 5.2% of the land has been returned. The Government has rejected the demand for an international judicial mechanism into war crimes charges by the military. But it has not set up even a domestic judicial mechanism. The Office of Missing Persons exists only on paper. All major parties of the majority Sinhalese community have rejected the Tamils’ call for a federal constitution and the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
Meanwhile, further centralisation is taking place with the Governor of the Northern Province Reginald Cooray setting up an office in his official premises to channel peoples’ complaints to the President.