What really happened during the final stages of the Galle Face protest campaign, or Aragalaya, as it came to be known, which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Cabinet in May 2023 and the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa two months later? There are various conspiracy theories about those political upheavals. President Ranil Wickremesinghe has told the parliament yesterday that he was willing to appoint a committee to get to the bottom of it if others are agreeable.

Dissident SLPP MP and former Rajapaksa loyalist, Wimal Weerawansa, has claimed in his book, ‘Nine: The Hidden Story’, that the US and India strove to pressure President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, while he was in the Maldives, to sack PM Wickremesinghe before resigning. He has said that two letters were sent from Colombo for President Rajapaksa’s signature, one announcing his resignation and the other sacking Wickremesinghe. But Gotabaya signed only his resignation letter, according to Weerawansa who has also claimed that US Ambassador Julie Chung visited Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene and asked the latter to take over the government; Abeywardena, however pointed out that according to the Constitution, the Prime Minister had to be appointed the Acting President.

Weerawansa has alleged that the US, having failed to get rid of Wickremesinghe as the PM, opted to work with him, according to what he calls its Plan B, to further its interests!

War of words

Never a dull day in Sri Lanka. The ongoing debate on the 2024 budget took a dramatic turn yesterday with President Ranil Wickremesinghe responding to an allegation TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran had levelled against him the previous day in the House. He placed himself on a collision course with the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) in the process. Sumanthiran claimed that Wickremesinghe had become Prime Minister in May 2023 in violation of an agreement reached by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the BASL and all political parties to abolish the executive presidency first.

Denying Sumanthiran’s allegation President Wickremesinghe insisted that there had been no such formal agreement endorsed by the political parties officially. He said that 09 May violence had led to such a chaotic situation in the country that he had been compelled to become the Prime Minister as others had turned down President Rajapaksa’s offer.

President Wickremesinghe said that it was claimed in some quarters that an agreement had been reached among former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, all political parties, and the BASL to first abolish the executive presidency. He said some Opposition MPs had met the BASL for a discussion on how to resolve the political crisis, and the BASL had met former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Some political parties and the BASL had sought to appoint an outsider as the Prime Minister by bringing him in as an MP via the National List, President Wickremesinghe said. They had asked President Rajapaksa not to appoint the Opposition Leader as the PM.

BASL chief wanted to be PM’

Accusing the BASL members of having gone out of their way to defend the Aragalaya activists taken into custody, President Wickremesinghe said he had been given to understand that the then BASL President Saliya Pieris, had sought to become the Prime Minister.

Someone had even had a suit tailored in the hope that he would be appointed the PM, the President said, without naming names, much to the amusement of the government rankers. He said the SLPP MPs had got him appointed the Prime Minister; he jokingly accused them of having dashed the hopes of the unnamed person who had a suit ready. “Because of you, he wasted money on his suit,” he said amidst laughter.

Thus, a lawyer himself, President Wickremesinghe sought to devalue the BASL proposals at issue and dismantle the arguments based on them by imputing motives to the BASL President at the time. He conveyed the impression that the BASL had worked according to a secret plan to capitalize on last year’s political upheavals in a bid to elevate its President to the coveted position of Prime Minister.

Pieris responds

Former BASL President Pieris’ responded to the President’s allegation promptly. Taking to social media yesterday he said, “They [the BASL proposals] were made after careful thought by its Executive Committee [of the BASL] and approved by the Bar Council. The legal community made these proposals with the intention of proposing a solution for Sri Lanka’s political and governance crisis with the interests of Sri Lanka and its people in mind.

“I am compelled to say that unlike politicians of his ilk, I have never placed personal ambitions above the needs of the country. I have never sacrificed my principles for personal gain or for the greed of office.”

Sumanthiran also responded to President Wickremesinghe’s claim that there had been no formal agreement among the political parties and the BASL to abolish the executive presidency. Taking to ‘X’, Sumanthiran said: “I thank @RW_UNP for confirming what I said in Parliament and further stating that the BASL document was discussed with @GotabayaR and other political party leaders and that even he had a copy of same. The insinuation he made against @saliyapieris was false and must be denounced.”

Arson attacks

President Wickremesinghe also told the parliament yesterday that terror tactics had been used by those who tried to make him step down as the PM. He cited, in support of his argument, the arson attack on his private residence in Colombo on 09 July, and the forcible occupation by protesters of the Prime Minister’s Office. He said he had ordered the army to foil an attempt by a mob to storm the parliament.

The President said he had told those who were pressing for his resignation as the PM that he would step down if anyone could prove that he had the support of the majority of the members of parliament; given the situation in the country, it had to be ensured that the post of PM did not remain vacant, he added. If that condition had been satisfied, he would have been left with no alternative but to resign forthwith, and any Prime Minister, for that matter, would have to do so if it could be proved that he or she did not command the confidence of the majority of the MPs, he said looking at Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, who smiled, nodding approvingly.

The President wound up his speech, saying that he was ready to appoint a committee to investigate last year’s incidents to get at the truth and asked others in the House whether they were agreeable. The position of the Opposition was not immediately known.








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