By Skandha Gunasekara and Ashwin Hemmathagama
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe yesterday emerged victorious after he managed to decisively defeat the much anticipated No-Confidence Motion with a comprehensive majority of 46 votes and will meet President Maithripala Sirisena today to decide the future of the government.
At the conclusion of a full day debate of nearly 12 hours Speaker Karu Jayasuriya moved the House for a vote on the motion. The motion against Prime Minister Wickremesinghe received 76 votes in favour and 122 votes against at a division by name. The division was called by Leader of the House Minister Lakshman Kiriella. A total of 26 MP were absent for the vote. Among them were two signatories to NCM Nishantha Muthuhettigama and Karder Musthan.
The UNF voted against the motion in a show of strength, backing the Premier with even dissident MP Wijedasa Rajapakse closing ranks unexpectedly. The minority parties led TNA, SLMC ACMC, Mano Ganesan and P. Digambaram (TPA), who are part of the UNF, bolstered the support for the Prime Minister by voting against the No-Confidence motion. There was eleventh hour change of heart from vocal State Ministers Wasantha Senanayake and Palitha Ranga Bandara as they voted against Motion.
However, as promised, the six members of the JVP voted in favor of the motion. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was absent during the debate, voted in favor of the motion, along with his brother MP Chamal Rajapaksa and son MP Namal Rajapaksa.
Independent MPs Athureliya Rathana Thero and Arumugam Thondaman were absent for the vote.
The SLFPers who voted in favor of the motion included Parliamentarians Susil Premajayantha, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Dilan Perera, John Seneviratne, Lakshman Wasantha Perera, Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Tharanath Basnayake, Susantha Punchinilame, Anura Yapa, S. B. Dissanayake, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Chandima Weerakkody, Anuradha Jayaratne and Sumedha Jayasena.
Notable SLFP Members of the Government who were absent included Mahinda Amaraweera, Sarath Amunugama, Nimal Siripala De Silva, Duminda Dissanayake, Faizer Mustapha, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, Wijith Wijyamuni Zoysa, Piyasasena Gamage, Mohan Lal Grero, Sriyani Wijewickrama, MALM Hisbullah, AHM Fowzie, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Manusha Nanayakkara, Nishantha Mutuhettigama, Indika Bandaranayake and Weerakumara Dissanayake.
The No-Confidence Motion was handed over to the Speaker by the Joint Opposition led by former President Rajapaksa on 21 March carrying the signatures of 55MPs including four SLFP members in the Government ranks. The defeat of the motion ended a 14 days game of cat-and-mouse between the UNP and the Opposition, each trying to garner the required numbers to secure a simple majority of 113 votes.
The vote was called for by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya at 9.30 and finished at 10.00pm. Soon after his victory, a jubilant Prime Minister speaking at a press conference said that the coalition government was still intact and the January 8 mandate must be fulfilled. “A group of MPs abandoned the Government today but we will continue with the rest. I will be meeting the President on Friday on how we are to move forward and discuss the future of the government. The national government will continue. The January 8 mandate given by the people must be fulfilled. We will also be making changes in the UNP. Reforms in the party will be carried out and reorganized,” the Prime Minister said.
Wickremesinghe’s first visit from Parliament was to the Gangaramaya Temple where he worshiped and sought blessings. Soon after the vote the city celebrated with crackers too. Earlier on in the day, a group of senior SLFPers addressing a media briefing at the Parliamentary complex affirmed that President Maithripala Sirisena was the head of the Government and that they would remain in their positions in the Government ranks even though they would vote in favor of the Motion. “It is the President who decides whether we should hold Ministerial positions, not the UNP,” Minister S B Dissnanayake said. Ministers Dayasiri Perera, John Seneviratne, Lakshman Wasantha Perera, Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Tharanath Basnayake, Dilan Perera, Susantha Punchinilame, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Susil Premajayantha, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Chanmdima Weerakkody, Sumedha G Jayasena and Anuradha Jayaratne were also present at the media briefing. UPFA joint opposition parliament group leader, Dinesh Gunawardena moved the motion against the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Parliament yesterday morning kicking off the debate.
Taking up the no-confidence motion signed by 55 MPs including four MPs from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) for debate, MP Gunawardena said: “There is no confidence in the Prime Minister. Whether the house has confidence in the Prime Minister or not is a very serious issue. This Government took over on the 8th March for the first time and the Central Bank came under the purview of the Prime Minister. Then a Singapore citizen was appointed to head the Central Bank. There is only one Central Bank in the country and it is a known fact that its governor has the power to influence the country’s economy. The Central Bank, which is traditionally under the Finance Ministry was taken away from the Finance Ministry. Knowing that he would not comply with the country’s accepted financial norms.” Challenging the appointment of former Central Bank Governor Arjun Mahandran he said: “Mahendran was appointed as the Governor knowing that he would not comply with the country’s accepted financial norms under the purview of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister recommended the appointment of Mahendran and took on the responsibility, which he accepted in parliament.” MP Gunawardena also noted that by appointing Arjuna Mahendran as the Central Bank Governor, the faith in the country’s foremost financial institution has been lost and led the nation to incur heavy losses from malpractices involving the shady deals with the Perpetual Treasuries. “Those responsible cannot escape from their misdeeds. Because of this incident, the Finance Minister had to resign from his post. Those responsible cannot be made to appear innocent,” he added. Minister of Public Enterprise and Kandy Development and Leader of the House of Parliament Lakshman Kiriella rejecting the charges on the Prime Minister said the NCM was brought on baseless allegations.
“Both times when PM Wickremesinghe took office, he appointed an MP from the Opposition as the COPE Chairman. In 2002 it was late Jeyaraj Fernandopullei and it is Sunil Handunnetti of the JVP at present. He also established oversight committees and appointed MPs from the Opposition and the ruling party. He did all these to suggest that the government has nothing to hide. ” Minister Kiriella added. He then highlighted the involvement of the joint opposition MPs in the recent violence against Muslims in certain parts of the country.
“The police were in possession of information on outsiders flocking into Kandy two days prior to Digana incident. I gave a telephone call to the police informing them about the situation and requested them to be vigilant. Six Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna politicians are behind the recent tense situation in Kandy. Among them, there are two SLPP parliamentarians as well. We do accept that there have been lapses from the part of police with regards to this incident. The police had already received information on outsiders coming to Kandy in groups. But the police did not act on these. Some police stations were very much dedicated in curbing the situation, whereas, some were inactive.” Minister Kiriella said. “So, how could the JO allege that the PM is responsible for that?” he queried Joining the debate, the Leader of the Opposition Rajavarothiam Sampanthan rejected corruption. “With regard to the Central Bank bond scam, consequent to investigations two persons are in custody and a warrant is issued against a third person and investigations are proceeding. No one should be spared, and the rule of law should be implemented irrespective of who they are.” “The motion of No-Confidence seeks to implicate the prime minister with the bond scam. Statements of actions of a general nature are thought to be used in an attempt to implicate the prime minister with the bond scam. The wording of the motion and the timing of the motion are indicative of a pursuit of a political agenda through the motion rather than fixing responsibility with regard to the bond scam,” he said. “The question must be raised as to why the wording is so weak lacking in any specific charge against the prime minister pertaining to the band scam per say. Why should this motion be brought now? The wording of the NCM is too loose and too general in nature. It could be that the Prime Minister is facing this situation because of the confidence he placed in someone who betrayed him. Where is the evidence or charge against the Prime Minister of involvement in the bond scam per say? Is the wording of the NCM so loose and so general because of the lack of specific material against the Prime Minister in regard to the bond scam? If that is so, in my submission the motion lacks credibility. With regard to the timing of the motion, this bond scam occurred three years ago, and it has been the subject of public focus for a long time, so why has this NCM brought against the PM only now? This is a plan to bring down, totally and completely, the present government,” added MP Sampanthan.
According to MP Sumanthiran, the no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister is the first step in the assault against the government of national unity that has the popular peoples mandate. “Perhaps the second would be aimed at the Speaker’s Chair and the third impeaching the President himself. Now that design goes against the mandate of the people of this country from all parts and all communities granted mainly to the two main parties. This Government has received a mandate in particular from the people to fight corruption. In 2015 Presidential election one of the key issues pronounced and people selected a common candidate to fight corruption. There were very serious issues that this country had to face and then get addressed, resolved and the direction of the country to be changed. Persons from varied different political backgrounds joined hands in this exercise.” “All of us worked together and brought about this change. Thereafter the General elections led to form the national unity government. Unfortunately, some who were elected from the UPFA decided to go against that mandate and left the Government of national unity and chose to sit in the opposition. It was the first challenge posed to the national unity government. Today, that group of MPs who worked against the mandate received has preferred a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) claimed the No-Confidence motion was another attempt by the Joint Opposition to remove the Premier Wickremesinghe from the 2020 Presidential election race. SLMC leader Minister Rauf Hakeem made these remarks while taking part in yesterday’s debate on the No-Confidence motion. “The SLMC stands with the Prime Minister against the motion and it considers the motion as an attack on the government. The Prime Minister is only a symbol. They just want to damage the government,” he said.He then said that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna was utilizing the suffering of the muslim community to their political advantage.
“The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is attempting to take advantage of the sufferings of the Muslim people and are trying to use it to influence the Muslim MPs. There are attempts to manipulate the SLMC and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) by those behind the NCM claiming that the government has not been able to guarantee the safety of the minorities.
“For them the suffering of the Muslims is just another factor to manipulate. The shock, the suffering and the damages of the Muslim community has been used to compel Muslim MPs to vote against the Prime Minister. They have also tried to use a speech made by one of our MPs criticizing the response to the Digana communal violence and are trying to convince people that we must vote against the government,” he said.”
Correction: This article previously innacurately stated that 122 MPs voted in favour of the No Confidence Motion. It has been corrected to state that 122 voted against the motion. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.