The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) parliamentarians, holding ministerial positions in the Government, who voted in favour of the No-Confidence Motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday (4), have told President Maithripala Sirisena, they are willing to give up their portfolios.
When the Motion against the PM was taken up in Parliament, some SLFP members, who are now part of the Unity Government, voted for it while a sizeable number of their colleagues were absent from the House.
This general confusion within the Party, with regard to the No-Confidence Motion, was evident yesterday as two different groups of SLFP MPs held press conferences at the Party Headquarters stating what the party’s stance on the issue was. At the first media briefing MPs said the Party had decided to be abstain from the voting while the other MPs said the decision was to support the motion against the Prime Minister.
Ministers Dayasiri Jayasekara, Chandima Weerakkody and Dilan Perera, representing the 16 SLFP Parliamentarians, who voted in favour of the No-Confidence Motion, claimed that the party’s agreed upon stance was to vote ‘yea’ to the removal of the Prime Minister. However, the group of parliamentarians who were absent for the Wednesday’s vote, represented by ministers Mahinda Samarasinghe, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya and Vijith Wijayamuni Zoysa claimed that the Party had agreed not to participate in the vote.
Minister of Ports and Shipping, Samarasinghe and Minister of Irrigation, Zoysa claimed that during the final meetings of the Party held with the President on Tuesday (3 April) evening and the one at Minister Mahinda Amaraweera’s residence on Wednesday (4) morning, it was decided that the Party would not participate in the vote.
Zoysa noted: “Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala and Minister S. B. Dissanayake were the ones who suggested that we abstain from the vote because we do not have the supporting numbers. They mentioned this during both meetings and we agreed to it because it was the majority. But at the end of the day, they had gone and particpated in the vote. This deeply saddened us.”
However, according to the group of dissenters, the two ministers had not even taken part in the final meeting which arrived at the decision of voting in favour of the NCM. According to Dayasiri Jayasekara, the unanimous Party decision was to vote in favour of the NCM, in order to express their displeasure in the Prime Minister and his behavior with regard to the Central Bank Treasury Bonds incident and the violence in Kandy earlier this year.
Minister Dilan Perera said: “Our final decision was communicated to the SLFP General Secretary Duminda Dissanayake and Vice President Nimal Siripala de Silva, who were told to inform the President. Ministers Samarasinghe and Zoysa were not even present for the final meeting at Minister Amaraweera’s residence.”
The group of dissenters further noted the group had informed President Sirisena, last morning, of their willingness to vacate their ministerial portfolios, in the wake of the NCM.
Minister Jayasekara noted: “We are ready to leave our portfolios. But it will be the President who decides whether we will be removed or not. The United National Party cannot interfere. We know, personally, that the UNP bought off the votes of several parliamentarians with the promise of giving them Cabinet portfolios. We shall see them soon enough. We are ready to sacrifice our positions but it is the President who has the final call as he is the executive and he has the Constitutional powers to make that decision and not the Prime Minister.”
“We are ready to let it all go but even if we resign and sit with the Opposition we will still be part of the SLFP,” Perera said.
Meanwhile, Minister Samarasinghe claimed that the NCM was a controversy concocted by the Joint Opposition to isolate the President and divide the SLFP. Condemning various reports that suggested that the President had directed the SLFP to vote in favour –in some reports, to be absent—Samarasinghe claimed that the group of 41 members that make up the SLFP in the Parliament must remain united to safeguard the Party.
Similarly, the group led by Jayasekara, Perera and Weerakkody opined that the Party and the Unity Government will continue forward. Jayasekara said, “There is no conflict in the party. But the people will know whom to vote for in the next election because now they know who protected the Party and the ones who did not.”
Minister Samarasinghe, when inquired about the fate of the Unity Government, claimed that President and Prime Minister will have to decide on extending the agreement between the two parties, but highlighted that Unity Government is not at risk due to NCM’s outcome.