Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s opponents in the ruling United National Front are saying that he suffered a setback today Sept 19, as the Cabinet of Ministers rejected an idea to bring in a proposal to abolish the Executive Presidency.
But his supporters reject that notion.
Leader of the House and Minister of Public Enterprises Lakshman Kiriella told RepublicNext, that the PM and President Maithripala Sirisena had brought the matter up “not as a Cabinet Memorandum but just as an idea and that was rejected by almost the whole cabinet.”
Party General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam also denied the PM had proposed such an idea.
Kiriella said that President Maithripala Sirisena had summoned the Cabinet to discuss the issue at 3 pm. This was in addition to the regular Cabinet meeting which took place on Tuesday.
Wickremesinghe told the meeting that the United National Party’s official position is that it wants the Executive Presidency abolished and the office of the PM strengthened. Wickremesinghe had said that on “principle that is my stand.”
Other sources told RepublicNext that Wickremesinghe had mooted the idea in a memorandum to Cabinet asking that the government support the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’s motion, dubbed the 20th Amendment to the Constitution to make the Presidency a purely ceremonial position.
This was consequent to a meeting he had with Civil Society activists on the weekend.
Wickremesinghe had also correctly pointed out that in 2015 the voters had given the government a mandate to abolish the Presidency.
It was the President who summoned the meeting
Sources from Temple Trees claimed that it was Sirisena who suggested to Wickremesinghe that they “sound out the Cabinet on this proposal.”
This was mostly because the JVP and the Tamil National Alliance have indicated they could support a candidate who would carry out the promise.
The meeting ended around 4:30 after Ministers supporting the candidature of Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa opposed the idea, along with Ministers Rauff Hakeem, Mano Ganesan and Palani Digambaram.
This showed a shift in the minority support for the Presidency as the Upcountry Tamils and the Muslims are holding together but the Northern Tamils are opposed to it.
Other sources said that Sirisena had “introduced the idea but did not push it too much and let the Ministers decide. He ended the meeting suggesting that the ruling coalition sort out the issue among themselves.”
Pro-Premadasa Minister Harin Fernando tweeted that “We have objected to any move to abolish the Executive Presidency. Group led by Sajith Premadasa informed PM at the pre-cabinet (meeting) that any move on this should happen after the Presidential Election.”
Premadasa had reportedly said that the party could not move towards abolishing the Presidency after the election had been fixed. This was supported by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
Earlier in the day many of the Members of Parliament from the ruling United National Front met in Parliament to seek the views of the alliance MPs.
MPs present at the meeting heard UNP Chairman Kabir Hashim say that minority party leaders such as Ganesan and Rishad Bathiudeen were supportive of Premadasa’s candidacy.
Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka who leads the Hela Urumaya reiterated that his support will go to any UNP candidate.
Asked to air his views National List MP Jayampathy Wickremeratne had said that his party the Lanka Samasamaja Party would support a candidate that will abolish the Presidency and act on Devolution of power.
He urged the MPs “not to be led by surveys. Instead, you should show leadership and carry the people along with what is correct.”