Sri Lankan leader takes reinstated prime minister to task
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s president on Sunday launched a scathing verbal attack at his reappointed prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, accusing his leadership of being corrupt and anti-national, casting doubt on any immediate end to the country’s restive politics.
Maithripala Sirisena administered the oath to Wickremesinghe nearly two months after firing him and setting off a long political stalemate in the South Asian island nation. But soon after the ceremony, he made a speech in which he said he doubted if the two leaders will be able to work together for long.
‘‘With the issues we have, I am not sure what guarantees we have that we could go on this journey together,’’ Sirisena told Wickremesinghe and a group of his lawmakers. He said he can’t find people of honesty and integrity to help him take the country forward.
The swearing-in took place privately, with only a few lawmakers in attendance and media not permitted. It initially indicated an end to nearly two months of political impasse but Sirisena’s speech is a sign that the cohabitation between the two leaders could be acrimonious, possibly leading to early parliamentary elections.
A new Cabinet is expected to be sworn in soon.
Sirisena in his televised speech listed reasons that led him to sack Wickremesinghe. He said Wickremesinghe did not show interest in assisting investigations into an alleged insider trade during a bond issue, in which a former Central Bank governor who is a close friend of Wickremesinghe is implicated.
He said Wickremesinghe’s ministers were responsible for alienating the country’s powerful Buddhist monks from the government by having them arrested for holding unlicensed captive elephants in their temples.
Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist nation with an influential clergy.
Sirisena was also critical of Wickremesinghe for his investigation of alleged abuses during the country’s long civil war, which ended in 2009. Amid cry for an international trial, Sri Lanka’s government in 2015 undertook at the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct independent trials of its own with international support on allegations against government troops and the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.
Wickremesinghe had not looked into prosecuting former rebels whom he said were hiding in foreign countries while having only government soldiers arrested, Sirisena said.
‘‘My view is that we should prosecute everyone, or else we should negotiate with the international community and free our soldiers (from accusations),’’ he said.
Both sides were accused of grave rights abuses during the civil war. According to a UN report, at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed just in the final months of the fighting.
Wickremesinghe made a separate statement at his official residence, where he refrained from responding to Sirisena.
‘‘Now I will assume duties of the office of prime minister,’’ Wickremesinghe told his cheering supporters.
‘‘Unfortunately, during the past few weeks, the progress of this country and the development programs that we undertook were stalled,’’ he said. ‘‘Not only that, the country went backward. Today we commit firstly to bring back normalcy and resuming the development program.’’
Sirisena abruptly dismissed Wickremesinghe on Oct. 26 and appointed former strongman President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place. Wickremesinghe insisted his removal was unlawful.
Rajapaksa, meanwhile, failed to get Parliament’s approval, losing two no-confidence votes.
Still, Rajapaksa continued to hold office with Sirisena’s support, and his opponents went to court. The Court of Appeal suspended Rajapaksa and his Cabinet from functioning in their offices. Rajapaksa asked the Supreme Court to lift the suspension, but it refused and extended the suspension until mid-January, forcing Rajapaksa to resign on Saturday.
Sri Lanka had been without a government from the time Rajapaksa was suspended by the Court of Appeal and was facing the danger of being unable to spend government money from Jan. 1 without a budget. It is also committed to repay $1 billion in foreign debts in January.
‘‘We can be proud of the way our Parliament and Supreme Court did their duties according to the law,’’ Wickremesinghe said Sunday, adding that the Supreme Court had strengthened the freedom of the citizens by interpreting the law accurately.
‘‘We all need a normal life, we need our progress and it is to this that we are committed,’’ he said.
Sirisena was health minister in Rajapaksa’s Cabinet when he defected to join Wickremesinghe and challenge Rajapaksa in the 2015 presidential election. After winning the election, he formed a government with Wickremesinghe as prime minister, but the two leaders started to have differences.
Sirisena opposed Wickremesinghe’s liberal economic policies and his moves to investigate alleged abuses during Sri Lanka’s long civil war, which ended in 2009. He had insisted on not reappointing Wickremesinghe even though Rajapaksa lost the two no-confidence votes.