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My dream of becoming prime minister has faded away: Rajapaksa

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R_WickremasingheColombo: Sri Lanka’s ruling UNF led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday claimed victory in the parliamentary polls after former president Mahinda Rajapaksa conceded defeat.

The United National Party (UNP), the key constituent in the country’s minority government, expressed confidence that it would get the numbers in the 225-seat parliament to form the next government.

Minister Karu Jayasuriya, who led the election campaign for his party, said the UNF was confident of winning 105-107 seats and secure the help of friendly parties to form a government.

“We intend to keep our promises and develop the country,” UNP leader John Amaratunga said after netting the Gampaha seat. He said Wickremesinghe would take oath as prime minister later on Tuesday.

It is the first time in 14 years the UNP wrested Gampaha, indicating a major mood swing in the country where Rajapaksa reigned supreme for over a decade until his dramatic loss in the January presidential election this year.

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A sombre Rajapaksa conceded defeat in Monday’s keenly fought elections.

“My dream of becoming the prime minister has faded away,” Rajapaksa told AFP. “I am conceding we have lost a good fight.”

Election officials said the UNP had bagged 11 of the 22 districts from where results were available. The UPFA had won eight while the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main Tamil party, was the victory in three districts in the Tamil-majority northern province.

The UPFA’s victories came from Sinhalese-majority areas including Hambantota, the stronghold of the Rajapaksa family.

But the emerging results showed the UNF had made inroads in the districts where Rajapaksa had the upper hand in the January presidential contest.

The main battle was between the UNF led by Wickremesinghe and the UPFA, which had Rajapaksa as its main candidate.

Both Jaffna and Vanni districts, which saw thousands of deaths in the end stages of armed conflict that ended in 2009, voted for the TNA, which is expected to ally with Wickremesinghe.

Wickremesinghe urged Sri Lankans not to divide themselves as winners and losers and work together as one family for the betterment of Sri Lanka and to introduce a new political culture to the country.

He said in a statement that people had given a mandate for good governance and consensus-based politics.

President Maithripala Sirisena said Monday’s election was one of the most peaceful, free and fair election in the history of Sri Lanka.

(IANS)

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Sri Lanka On The Brink of ‘Economic Anarchy’

Sri Lanka will have issues on accessing government money if the stalemate is not resolved by the end of the year.

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Sri Lanka
Members of a civil society group attend a silent protest to demand democracy, after Sri Lankan opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed prime minister when President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed Ranil Wickremesinghe, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Two men each claim to be the prime minister. Lawmakers are exchanging blows in Parliament. A former finance minister says Sri Lanka is on the brink of an “economic anarchy.”

Welcome to Sri Lanka, where the political crisis is getting worse by the week.

The trouble started when President Maithripala Sirisena, fed up with disagreements with his prime minister over money, an alleged conspiracy plot and unresolved issues of wartime crimes against civilians, fired Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet and replaced them with a government headed by a popular former strongman, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

But lawmakers balked and twice passed a no-confidence motion. Sirisena, however, refuses to accept that his choice of prime minister has been defeated.

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Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena waves to supporters during a rally outside the parliamentary complex in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Sirisena government can’t be legal

Jehan Perera, head of the local analyst group National Peace Council, said that the government appointed by the president can’t be called legal because Sirisena had not sought a parliamentary vote when he dismissed Wickremesinghe.

“It can be called illegitimate because provisions for a confidence vote in Parliament are being blocked by the president’s own party through their riotous behavior,” Perera said, referring to a brawl last week that was followed by another pandemonium in the chamber when Rajapaksa loyalists refused to let the speaker conduct proceedings.

Wickremesinghe says his dismissal is invalid because he still holds a majority in the 225-member Parliament. The dismissal is also disputed because of the latest constitutional change, which lawyers say has taken away presidential powers to dismiss the prime minister.

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Sri Lankan former President Mahinda Rajapakse addresses journalists at his residence in Colombo, Sept. 22, 2018. Rajapakse has been appointed the Sri Lanka’s new prime minister. VOA

Life goes on

Despite all the drama and two rival prime ministers, life hasn’t collapsed, thanks to the efficient bureaucracy that keeps the wheels of administration turning.

Even though there is no Cabinet recognized by Parliament, and despite warnings by Wickremesinghe supporters that state officials should not take orders from an “illegal government” of Rajapaksa, bureaucrats continue to work with the president who is the chief executive and the ministers appointed by him, officials said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

Budget dilemma looms

However, decisions regarding new projects or purchases involving large sums of money are on hold.

The absence of a recognized government has delayed the budget for 2019. Mangala Samaraweera, who was finance minister in Wickremesinghe’s Cabinet, said that there will be no legal way of spending money in the coming year without a parliament-approved budget.

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Sri Lanka’s ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reacts during a news conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, VOA

Sri Lanka’s Constitution says that control over public finances lies with Parliament and no funds can be released without a warrant signed by the finance minister and approved by the legislature. That means all government payments starting from January can be deemed illegal, Samaraweera says.

Sri Lanka is on the brink of an “economic anarchy and chaos as never experienced before.”

“The cavalier and irresponsible actions of the president … based on personal animosities and precipitating a series of illegal acts, places at risk Sri Lanka’s ability to meet its immediate debt obligations,” he said.

Sri Lanka has to repay $1 billion of its foreign loans in early January, which is also in the prerogative of Parliament to approve.

Sri lanka
Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, front left, is sworn in as prime minister before President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Wickremesinghe’s lawmakers have presented a motion to the speaker seeking to block funding to the prime minister’s office, which if passed, would curtail Rajapaksa’s functions.

“As far as the people are concerned, they are witnessing the normal functioning of the country,” insisted government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella.

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However, he conceded that Sri Lanka will have issues on accessing government money if the stalemate is not resolved by the end of the year. Sirisena called snap elections for Jan. 5, but the opposition challenged the decision, and the dispute is in court. (VOA)