Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa gives mixed signals on support for Wickremesinghe

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa continues to give mixed signals on his party’s continued support for Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe; on the one hand commending the latter’s outburst at a foreign journalist and, on the other, criticising price increases and hardships on the public.

Fielding questions from reporters on Wednesday October 04, Rajapaksa said Wickremesinghe’s controversial interview with a Deutsche Welle (DW) journalist was “good”.

One of the journalists who had surrounded Rajapaksa on his way to his official vehicle prompted Rajapaksa with a call back to his own confrontations with foreign media during his tenure as president. The journalist said: “You were also once someone who spoke firmly to foreign media. Now Mr Wickremesinghe has reached that same level. What do you make of that?”

“That’s good. It’s how it should be done,” replied Rajapaksa.

Asked about Wickremesinghe’s insistence in the DW interview that no international investigation will be held on the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, the former president and leader of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna said: “That’s very correct. It is what the people are expecting too.”

Commenting on allegations made by the UK’s Channel 4 relating to the Easter attacks, he said: “We can’t dance to the tune of Channel 4.”

Rajapaksa also dismissed concerns about the controversial “online safety bill” that was tabled in parliament on Wednesday.

“No one will raise their hand for that,” he said, despite the bill being tabled by an SLPP MP: Minister of Public Security Tiran Alles.

Amid reports of increased splintering within the SLPP, speculation has been rife of different factions of the once formidable party struggling to make up its mind on continued support for President Wickremesinghe.

Against this backdrop, Rajapaksa, who leads the SLPP, offered some thinly veiled criticism of the Wickremesinghe administration, despite the government comprising almost entirely SLPP MPs.

“That’s what we’re telling the government. The people are struggling. The people must be helped. That’s what we’re saying too,” he said.

One journalist offered, ostensibly to egg the former president on, that the people didn’t suffer as much during his administration from 2005 to 2015.

“That is true. If you’re saying that, it must be absolutely correct,” replied Rajapaksa.

“Are you on the side of the people?”

“Yes, definitely.”

Asked if he could not offer some advice to the incumbent president, Rajapaksa said: “The thing is, if our advice is sought, we can give it. You can’t force advice.”

The SLPP leader added that the parliamentary group of the party is discussing reported plans to impose another power tariff hike.

Asked if Rajapaksa did not wish to take back control, he said: “I think I served long enough. We need to go ahead with a new leadership now.”