‘I did say I will not reappoint Ranil’: Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena says his reappointing of Ranil Wickremesinghe as the prime minister of the country is the characteristic of a democratic society and one that values democratic practices. He spoke to Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview.
Q. Just days ago, you said you would choose a new Parliament and prime minister but not work with Wickremesinghe. You sacked him but he was sworn in as PM again this week by none other than you. Was your chat with him before his swearing-in a reconciliation?
A. Yes, I did say that I will not reappoint Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister even if he receives the consent of 225 parliamentarians. That is my personal political view and I still maintain that view as a person. But, I respect the parliamentary tradition and decided that the post of prime minister should be given to Mr Wickremesinghe. I see this as a characteristic of a democratic society as well as of a society that values democratic practices.
Q. In October, you swore in former president and erstwhile rival Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister in Wickremesinghe’s place. The latter refused to step down and a court decision broke the deadlock. Rajapaksa resigned. Will your relationship with Rajapaksa go back to rivalry? He is a strong contender for the next elections in 2019-2020.
A. We will continue to work as partners of a democratic, socialist political force. We plan to form a broad alliance and parties will join that front.
Q. In the past turbulent weeks, you accused Wickremesinghe’s United National Party of “buying” MPs to ensure Rajapaksa loses the two votes of no-confidence. Since the world community watches Sri Lanka closely, how do you explain such a trend to other countries? How is it legally possible to allow such votes allegedly bought with money?
A. I will continue my crusade against such corrupt practices. My desire is to establish a new political culture where corruption, bribery, political intimidation and violence and such evil practices are either eliminated or at least minimised.
Q. Tourist arrivals are down, people fear instability. Are you certain your partnership with Wickremesinghe will last its full course till the election?
A. I cannot describe it as a partnership. I, as executive President, will exercise my powers in the interest of the people and the country and I will continue to do so during the entire tenure of my presidency. However, I must clarify few issues. There is no instability. Although there were few cancellations, there is no major drop in tourist arrivals. In fact there was a 16% increase in tourist arrivals in November. I am confident that the growth will continue.
Q. You have come under considerable criticism for the turbulence of the past months. You’ve been accused of a “soft coup”. How can you explain all these recent moves?
A. I have a clear conscience. All my decisions were in the best interest of the country and the people. All what I did was done with utmost good faith. I didn’t do any of those acts with malice or with an intention of violating the constitution. The country was in huge political turmoil. The best solution to solve the problem was to go for an election. Hence, I consulted constitution experts and issued the dissolution notification.
A. What role do you hope the Tamil National Alliance will play in the ‘re-born’ Parliament convened on Monday? The TNA supported Wickremesinghe through this crisis. Will not the pressure from the TNA on the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition to fulfil long-standing demands, including greater autonomy for Tamil-majority areas, intensify now?
A. We always worked to strengthen reconciliation. My government has taken a number of measures to remove grievances and hardships of the people in the north and east. We have implemented projects to improve infrastructure facilities, roads, schools, hospitals etc. More than 90% of the land acquired by the military during the conflict has been given back to original owners. Before the end of this month, another 2,500 acres of land will be released. Our aim is to ensure that all the regions in the country are developed without neglecting any part. We urge the Tamil and Muslim political parties also to extend fullest cooperation to these Development efforts in the north and east.