Sri Lanka’s new government will investigate an alleged attempt by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to stage a coup to try to stay in power when results showed he was losing last week’s election, a spokesman for the country’s new leader said on Sunday.
A special investigation will be set up to probe the alleged coup soon after the new government is formed, said Mangala Samaraweera, the spokesman for president Maithripala Sirisena, who came to power after winning Thursday’s election.
“Some say this was a very peaceful transition. But that’s not the truth. People should know what happened behind the scenes,” Samaraweera told reporters.
Until a few weeks ago, Rajapaksa was widely expected to easily win his third term in office. But Sirisena – his former friend and health minister – defected from the ruling party in November, and gathered the support of other defecting lawmakers, opposition parties and many of Sri Lanka’s ethnic minorities, making the election a fierce political battle. Sirisena contested as the combined opposition candidate.
After conceding defeat, Rajapaksa left his office and the official presidential residence on Friday, saying he respected the people’s mandate.
Samaraweera, however, said on Sunday that Rajapaksa had made an attempt to deploy the army and police to stop the counting of votes when initial results showed he was heading for defeat.
He said Rajapaksa convened the chiefs of the police and the army, as well as the attorney general, at midnight on Thursday and asked them to come up with a plan to stop the vote-counting. Samaraweera said the three officials opposed the move.
Wijayananda Herat, Rajapaksa’s media secretary, rejected the accusation, saying Rajapaksa convened the police and army chiefs only to instruct them to enhance the country’s security.
Samaraweera said the new government’s first task would be “to probe this coup and reveal to the country what really took place.”
“People should know about the dangerous situation that existed and Rajapaksa’s coup to bury the country’s democracy,” he said.
Sirisena assumed his duties on Friday and the new government is expected to be formed on Monday, a day before Pope Francis arrives in the island nation for a much-anticipated visit.