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Maha Sangha issues ultimatum to PM

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Having issued an ultimatum on Saturday (30) at the Independence Square to the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) members including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to quit the Cabinet forthwith or face the consequences, senior members of the Maha Sangha asked political parties to support their initiative.

The meeting took place at the Sri Lanka Foundation (SLF) on the joint invitation of Most Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobitha Nayaka Thera and Rt. Rev. Dr. Anthony Jayakody, Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Colombo.

Among those MPs present were Ranjith Madduma Bandara, General Secretary, main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, of dissident SLPP group, Buddhika Pathitana (SJB), Eran Wickremaratne (SJB), Vijitha Herath (JVP), Rishrad Bathiudeen (ALMC/SJB), Patali Champika Ranawaka (SJB) and former MP Mrs Ferial Ashraff.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) was represented by its President Saliya Pieris, PC. The top spokesperson for the Catholic Church Rev. Father Cyril Gamini was also present.

Lacille de Silva, former director administration, Parliament who is involved in the initiative, told The Island that the Maha Sanga had issued an unprecedented ultimatum to the President and the entire Cabinet-of-Ministers on the basis of letters dated April 04 and 20th, addressed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, by the Mahanayaka Theras.

Pointing out that the letter, dated April 20, has also been addressed to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and leaders of all political parties represented in Parliament, de Silva emphasised the urgent need to reach a consensus on a political settlement.

The economic-political-social crisis has to be dealt with without further delay, de Silva said, adding that the Mahanayakes first letter, dated 04 April, received President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s response only on April 25th, five days after the Mahanayakes issued their second letter.

Before Prof. Olaganwaththe Chandrasiri laid down the conditions for a political settlement, Ven. Omalpe Sobitha had warned that the ruination of the country couldn’t be allowed for the benefit of the Rajapaksa family. The former Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) lawmaker declared that Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa should quit as he had failed in his duties and responsibilities.

Having gathered at the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC), Baudhaloka Mawatha, the members of the Maha Sanga walked to Independence Square for a formal meeting, where the ultimatum was issued.

Ven. Omalpe Sobitha warned that they expected the incumbent government to heed their warning and take tangible measures to address public grievances, without further delay.

Civil society grouping Purawasi Handa, working closely with the Catholic Church, backed Maha Sanga initiative, said that they expected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and political parties, represented in Parliament, to reach a consensus on an agreement by 15 May.

Ven. Olaganwaththe Chandrasiri, on behalf of the Mahanayaka Theras and the Maha Sanga, declared the following :

(1) dissolve the Cabinet-of-Ministers

(2) an interim all-party administration pending general election

(3) an expert committee to advice the interim administration

(4) interim all-party administration to follow a national policy, developed on the basis of consensus reached in Parliament

(5) educating the public of the agreed proposals and

(6) the President should abide by decisions taken by the interim administration.

Asked whether in accordance with the proposed plan the President could remain during the interim administration, de Silva confirmed the continuation of the incumbent President for the time being. Of course, the President, under any circumstances, wouldn’t be able to exercise executive powers to the detriment of the interim administration, he said.

Purawasi Handa spokesperson de Silva emphasised that the Maha Sanga appreciated the high-profile protest undertaken by the public, at the Galle Face, demanding the resignation of both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa as well as the rest of the Cabinet Ministers.

The former top House official said that the Maha Sanga expected the President and all political parties, represented in the Parliament, to abide by the Mahanayakes, proposals. Therefore, whatever the initiatives undertaken by the President and other political parties, especially the SJB, should be done away with, or amended, to pave the way for the Maha Sanga’s initiative, de Silva said.

At the onset of the meeting at Independence Square, Ven. Prof. Agalakada Sirisumana flayed the President and the Premier for having enacted the 20th Amendment to the Constitution to enable themselves to engage in waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement, which, he said, had led to the present economic fallout. The President, the Premier and their henchmen wanted an administration that was not subjected to state auditing process, hence the decision to introduce the 20th Amendment.

The 20th Amendment received on overwhelming 2/3 support in Parliament, in Oct 2020. The controversial Amendment did away with provisions in the 19th Amendment that ensured transparency and accountability. The yahapalana administration enacted the 19th Amendment in 2015.

Ven. Sirisumana alleged the current dispensation had given ministerial portfolios to those who couldn’t be entrusted with responsibilities and caused havoc by delegating responsibilities to retired military officers; 48 percent of state enterprises had been placed under the Rajapaksas, the Thera added.

The senior monk was referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, Chamal Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa, Namal Rajapaksa and Shashendra Rajapaksa receiving key ministerial portfolios.

Stressing severe economic difficulties experienced owing to the incumbent administration’s failure to meet the basic needs of the people and make available essential food items, and services, at affordable prices, Ven. Sirisumana said that the government had paved the way for an era of queues.

He lambasted the government for the ill-conceived ban on all agrochemicals, in late April 2021, thereby causing huge crop losses. That decision destroyed the farmer community, Ven. Sirisumana alleged, while declaring their support to the ongoing campaign to oust President Rajapaksa and his government.

For 20 days, the protesters had been asking both the President and the Prime Minister to leave but they have chosen to remain, regardless of growing public protests, Ven. Sirisumana said, alleging that the President and the Premier hadn’t felt the growing public anger and extreme difficulties they were experiencing due to the government’s failure. The Thera reiterated their intention to have an interim administration for a period of one year, under a new Prime Minister.

Ven. Sirisumana said that they called the gathering at Independence Square as the government disregarded the Mahanayakes’ letter, dated 04 April.

Ven. Omalpe Sobitha asked PM Rajapaksa to acknowledge his failure and quit office. The monk said that unless the Rajapaksas did as advised by the Maha Sanga, they would be dealt with harshly.

Ven. Pahiyangala Ananda Sagara Thera vowed that they wouldn’t allow the current dispensation to continue. One family or one political party shouldn’t be placed in charge of the country, Ven. Ananda Sagara Thera declared, underscoring the significance of the ongoing Galle Face protest campaign. The senior monk said that the vast majority of those demanding the resignation of the President and the Prime Minister were Sinhala Buddhists. Declaring the public demanded the immediate restoration of normalcy, he warned all political parties to shed their differences and work in line with the proposals put forward by the Maha Sanga.

Ven Ananda Sagara urged SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa to cooperate with the plan and help achieve the stated objectives or face the consequences.  The Thera said that the Maha Sangha expected all political parties, including those who had declared they would operate independently to back the Maha Sanga’s proposals.



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PM blames ‘last administration’ for country’s current crisis

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Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Sky News that “the last administration is to blame” for the country’s current crisis.Protesters have clashed with police in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, as people demanded the resignation of the President and new Prime Minister.Demonstrations in the capital have been ongoing for the last two months as the public blames the country’s leadership for corruption and mishandling the economy.The Prime Minister said that the last administration “ran down the economy”.

“We have come to a point where we are bankrupt – which has never happened to Sri Lanka before,” he said in an interview with Sky News following his controversial appointment last week.

“We have no dollars, we have no rupees.”

On whether the President should resign, the veteran politician said it’s a “controversy” as the country is of split opinion.He added: “I suggested that after Sri Lanka passes the 21st amendment, the country should restore the original 19th amendment strengthening parliament – strengthening the powers of the prime minister.

“Then, all party leaders and the president should have a discussion and come to some arrangement on the future.”

Meanwhile, the recent unrest across the country has been sparked amid the country’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948, which has been blamed on a combination of COVID, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the president and his brother, until recently the prime minister.

“I can understand the anguish of the protesters – the young and the old,” Mr Wickremesinghe said.

“The young who see their future being taken away, and the old, who are suffering, the middle class, who see their lifestyle collapsing… farmers without fertiliser.

“There are many demonstrations outside police stations, petrol stations and other places. And it shows the anger, the despair, and the hopelessness that the people feel.”

He said that people, at the moment, “can’t bear the burden any longer”.

“We are certainly not in a very stable position,” he said.

Police have now arrested more than 800 people nationwide who are accused of ransacking property, looting and setting fire to MPs’ houses on 9 May.But human rights lawyers say in some cases police are jailing people who were out on the streets watching what was happening, rather than actively taking part in violence.The prime minister went on to say that the country faces a possibility of a food crisis due to the lack of fertiliser.Sri Lanka is near bankruptcy after announcing it had suspended up to $7bn (£5.6bn) in foreign loans due to be repaid this year because of a foreign currency crisis.It has led to limited imports with no gas in petrol stations. Other fuel, cooking gas, medicine and foods are in short supply forcing people to stay in long lines to buy the limited stocks.

“We are feeling the rise in the price of fuel – and we know it will go higher,” he said.

“Our main concern also is that we have not had fertiliser for cultivation, and this coming season, the rice cultivation season will not have the full production.

“Therefore from about August onwards, there is a possibility of a food crisis in Sri Lanka. That’s about the time when the global food crisis will also take place, and we will see how we will survive until about March next year.” – Sky News

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SJB, FSP agree on common agenda

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Focus on abolition of Executive Presidency

BY SHMAINDRA FERNANDO

SJB MP Kabir Hashim, MP, says the main Opposition party and the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) have recently agreed on the abolition of the Executive Presidency.Hashim yesterday (20) told The Island that they agreed on empowering Parliament at the expense of the Executive President.The SJB and FSP delegations met at the Opposition Leader’s Office at , Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha this week. The SJB delegation consisted of lawmakers, General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Kabir Hashim, Eran Wickremaratne and Mujubur Rahuman whereas the FSP was represented by Central Committee members, Pubudu Jagoda and Duminda Nagamuwa.The SJB, offshoot of the UNP, secured the recognition of the Election Commission in Feb 2020 while the FSP is yet to be registered as a political party.

Lawmaker Hashim said that the SJB was keen to discuss the current situation with all political parties represented in Parliament and out as part of the overall efforts to reach agreement on a common programme.Referring to the proposals made by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) to resolve the political crisis that would be a prerequisite for addressing the economic downturn, lawmaker Hashim said that the SJB and the FSP agreed on the need for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to agree on a timeline for him to step-down.Responding to The Island queries, one-time UNP Chairman said that the SJB could work together with the FSP on both political and economic issues. The talks took place amidst the FSP, the breakaway faction of the JVP, was consolidating its position as the spearhead of the ongoing protest campaign meant to force President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down.

MP Hashim said that they agreed to prepare a document meant for future cooperation. Asked whether they have scheduled another meeting with the FSP, the Kegalle District MP said that they were keen to prepare a working document before they next meet for talks.The top SJB spokesperson said that in spite of swearing in UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister, the President was on a difficult wicket.Lawmaker Hashim said the SJB was also engaged in talks with the JVP though the deliberations weren’t at official level. “We are proceeding with efforts to finalize a common agenda meant to restore normalcy. We had talks with the BASL, industry leaders as well as civil society,” MP Hashim said.Asked whether the SJB had met Premier Wickremesinghe or sought a meeting with him, MP Hashim said that when Dr. Harsha de Silva raised a spate of issues at hand, especially the recent hard default, the Premier assured the Parliament that party leaders would be fully briefed pertaining to the current situation.Lawmaker Hashim was referring to the first occasion Sri Lanka experienced a hard default as the grace period for the International Sovereign Bonds (ISB) Coupon payment lapsed on May 18. Last month Sri Lanka announced a pre-emptive negotiated default ofall outstanding debt as at April 12.On April 18 the ISB Coupon worth $ 78 million fell due and those had 30 days to obtain “Consent Solicitation” from all ISB holders for payment suspension by May 18.

FSP spokesperson Pubudu Jagoda told The Island that the party discussed the developing situation with some political parties, including the SJB and ’43 Brigade’ led by SJB MP Patali Champika Ranawaka. The FSP delegation comprised Central Committee members, Pubudu Jagoda, Duminda Nagamuwa and Sanjeewa Bandara. MP Patali Champika Ranawaka and Attorney-at-Law Shiral Lakthilake represented the ‘43 Brigade.’Jagoda said that the ’43 Brigade’ was of the view the executive presidential system should be retained with necessary amendments.According to Jagoda, the Eksath Samajawadi Pakshaya and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) agreed that the executive presidency should be abolished. FSP leader Kumar Gunaratnam and Pubudu Jagoda had represented the party whereas Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, and Shanakiyan Rasamanickam represented the TNA.

Jagoda said that the current environment was conducive for building a common agenda that could accommodate the vast majority of political parties represented in Parliament and other groups bent on abolishing the executive presidency.He emphasized the pivotal importance of a common response to what Jagoda termed the government crackdown in Colombo, its suburbs and the provinces where over 1,000 persons had been arrested by the police in connection with the ongoing investigations into mob assaults ignited following unprovoked attacks on those demanding the resignation of the President and the Premier.

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SJB, SLFP decry members switching sides as nine ministers are sworn in

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question all-party tag, allege moves to bribe lawmakers

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Two Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) lawmakers, Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara are among nine new Cabinet ministers sworn in yesterday (20).The swearing in ceremony took place at the President’s House as protests continued in front of the Presidential Secretariat demanding the resignation of President Rajapaksa.Two of the strongest critics of President Rajapaksa’s handling of investigations into the 2019 Easter Sunday massacre, the former UNP lawmakers joined the government following talks with UNP leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. UNP Leader and its National List member Wickremesinghe received the premiership on 12 May.

The SJB won 54 seats, including seven National Lists seats at the last general election.The SJB lawmakers visited Geneva in early March, 2022 at the beginning of the 49th session of the UNHRC, where Sri Lanka’s human rights record was strongly criticised. They had been also at the forefront of the SJB’s efforts to secure presidential pardon for ex-MP Ranjan Ramanayake, sentenced for contempt of court by the Supreme Court during the yahapalana administration.The other newly-appointed Cabinet ministers are Nimal Siripala de Silva (Ports, Shipping and Aviation), Susil Premjayantha (Education), Keheliya Rambukwella (Health), Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapkse, PC (Justice, Prisons, and Constitutional Reforms), Dr. Ramesh Pathirana (Plantations), Tiran Alles (Public Security) and Nalin Fernando (Trade, Commerce and Food Security). Except Tiran Alles who entered Parliament through the SLPP National List, others contested on the SLPP ticket.With the appointments made yesterday, the number of Cabinet ministers increased to 13. President Rajapaksa on May 14 swore in Prof. G.L. Peiris (Foreign Affairs), Dinesh Gunawardena (Home Affairs, Provincial Councils and Local Government), Kanchana Wijesekera (Power and Energy), and Prasanna Ranatunga (Urban Development and Housing). Except for MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena, the rest are SLPP members. But, Gunawardena, too, contested the last general election on the SLPP ticket while his son, Yadamini was accommodated on the SLPP National List.

SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara and SLFP Senior President Prof. Rohana Lakshman yesterday told The Island that their parties were strongly opposed to their members accepting ministerial posts.Both said that they had assured President Rajapaksa and Premier Wickremesinghe of their support for government economic recovery efforts while being in the Opposition. Prof. Lakshman insisted that Nimal Siripala de Silva taking up ministerial portfolio was contrary to the understanding reached with the current dispensation.The SLFP won 14 seats, including one National List seat at the last general election.Of the 13 lawmakers sworn in as ministers, Tiran Alles and Nalin Fernando representing the SLPP entered the Cabinet for the first time.

Among those accommodated in the Cabinet was Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, who was overlooked by the SLPP when the appointment of the original 30-member cabinet in terms of the 19th Amendment took place. Since then Rajapakse has been campaigning for the abolition of the executive presidency and on more than one occasion flayed President Rajapaksa. The lawmaker, in January this year shot off a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping urging him to stop Chinese economic invasion of Sri Lanka. In a 45-point letter to the Chinese leader, the lawmaker alleged that most of the Chinese funded projects had been wasteful and large commissions paid to the corrupt politicians and officials to secure such projects.After the 2020 general election which the SLFP won comfortably securing a 2/3rd majority in Parliament, MP Rajapakse refused to accept the State Ministry for Education. Susil Premjayantha, who accepted that ministry was sacked last early January this year within 24 hours after he criticised the government’s handling of the economy.

SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem on Thursday (19) accused the government of bribing Opposition lawmakers in a bid to secure their support. MP Hakeem questioned the government strategy while alleging that the original plan was to swear in a Cabinet of 15. Subsequently, the government planned a Cabinet of 18 and then they increased it to 22 ministers.PM Wickremesinghe assured Parliament on Thursday that members of the new Cabinet would not be entitled to minsterial salaries and perks.The Finance Minister has not been appointed. Ali Sabry, PC, served as the Finance Minister briefly after the removal of Basil Rajapaksa. Government efforts to persuade SJB’s Dr. Harsha de Silva, who is an economist to accept the finance portfolio have failed.

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