By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) yesterday claimed that it had unanimously decided to abstain at the voting on the No Confidence Motion (NCM) against PM Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday (April 4) following its failure to persuade him to quit.
The SLFP alleged that a section of its parliamentary group in the UNP-led government, in contravention of a collective decision taken at a meeting chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena, had voted for the Joint Opposition’s NCM against the PM.
Seventy six voted for the motion, 122 against and 26 abstained and they included 23 SLFPers loyal to President Sirisena.
Irrigation and Water Resources Management MinisterVijith Vijithamuni Zoysa yesterday told a hastily arranged press conference at party office at T. B. Jayah Mawatha that the same group at another meeting at UPFA General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera’s residence on the day of the vote had stressed the need for the SLFP group to abstain from voting.S. B. Dissanayake-Tilanga Sumathipala led group comprised 16 MPs, Zoysa said.
Zoysa was flanked by Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and Power and Renewable Energy Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya.
Zoysa said that Wickremesinghe and his senior colleagues like Public Enterprise and Kandy Development and Leader of the House of Parliament Lakshman Kiriella had rejected the SLFP’s call for the PM’s resignation out of hand thereby forcing them to review their strategy.
Siyambalapitiya alleged that had the NCM succeeded the country would have been plunged into unprecedented political turmoil as there was no consensus as regards Wickremesinghe’s successor. The Kegalle District MP alleged that the JO had never explained its post-NCM strategy. Had it succeeded in its effort, there would have been anarchy, Siyambalapitiya alleged.
At the onset of the briefing, Samarasinghe emphasised that President Sirisena had nothing to do with the strategy adopted by his parliamentary group regarding the move to oust Wickremesinghe.
Claiming that the NCM had been prepared by the JO, Samarasinghe claimed that the decision making Central Committee of the SLFP and the parliamentary group never ever discussed it though four of its members had signed it.
The NCM was endorsed by 51 JO members and four SLFPers. Samarasinghe said that of the four members who had signed the motion, two didn’t vote for the NCM. Nishantha Muthuhettigamage, Susantha Punchinilame, T. B. Ekanayake and M. Cader Mastan signed themotion. But, Muthuhettigama and Mastan refrained from voting for the NCM.
Samarasinghe quoted President Sirisena as having told his parliamentary group that he wouldn’t take a stand on the NCM. President Sirisena had been determined to stay clear of the NCM regardless of the consequences, Samarasinghe said.
National List MP Samarasinghe said in spite of the majority agreeing to skip the vote, a section had gone against that decision. According to him, of the 39 SLFP members in the parliamentary group 23, including the General Secretaries of the SLFP and the UPFA, Duminda Dissanayake and Mahinda Amaraweera had abstained.
Asked by The Island why the SLFP had refrained from taking punitive disciplinary measures against those members who had acted in contravention of a collective decision taken by the party especially against the backdrop of both the Central Committee and the parliamentary group not taking a decision regarding the NCM, Samarasinghe and Zoysa said they wanted to work together. They ruled out the possibility of the party taking disciplianry action against them.
They didn’t answer our question how the SLFP could ask for PM Wickremesinghe’s resignation without the President’s blessings for that move?
They asserted that cabinet appointments would be the prerogative of President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe.
The SLFP strongly condemned attacks on Sirasa soon after Wickremesinghe scuttled the NCM. Samarasinghe said that the SLFP condemned the attacks and the issue would be taken up at the next Cabinet meeting.
Alleging that there had been about 200 to 300 strong group involved in the incidents, Samarasinghe said that President Sirisena deployed the elite Special Task Force (STF) to quell trouble there.
Zoysa asserted that such incidents would be bad for the UNP.
Zoysa said that the NCM was the brainchild of the JO/Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Having captured the vast majority of local government bodies, the JO/SLPP wanted to take control of the SLFP through a campaign of misinformation and propaganda.
Zoysa alleged that treasury bond scams hadn’t been an issue though the JO pretended it was pursuing those transactions. The NCM was meant to oust Wickremesinghe and then move against President Sirisena, isolate him and grab power, Zoysa said.