Crisis gripped Sri Lanka’s first national unity government on Tuesday, with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe failing to reach consensus on the future of their coalition government, following the huge defeat their parties suffered in the recent local government elections.
Late on Tuesday evening, the leaders met at the President’s home — their third encounter after the poll results were released on Sunday — along with members of the Cabinet and some Ministers. They decided to set up a committee to chart out the next steps and “reform proposals” for their cohabitation government. The panel will come out with a report within three days, sources told The Hindu .
“The President said we should not drag this anymore. He was very keen we resolve this soon,” said Ranjan Ramanayake, a Deputy Minister, who was present at the meeting.
While the two parties tried reaching an agreement, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe on Tuesday came under pressure to resign, according to reliable sources. One of the early indications came on Sunday, when President Sirisena told Mr. Wickremesinghe that his Ministers were “not willing to work with him [the PM] any more,” The Hindu has learnt.
Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) and the Sirisena-led faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), its traditional rival, have been in government together since 2015, after they jointly ousted former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a historic election. The other faction of the SLFP supports Mr. Rajapaksa and sits in the Opposition.
In the February 10 local government polls, the partners in national government contested separately and lost to the newly formed party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), or Sri Lanka People’s Front, backed by Mr. Rajapaksa. The SLPP won in 239 out of the 341 councils, pushing the UNP, which seemed a favourite during the campaign, to a distant second spot with 41 councils. Mr. Sirisena’s SLFP won just 10 councils.
While the growing differences in the uneasy coalition became evident during the campaign, the results have only deepened the fissures. “There is no way we will support this government as long as Mr. Wickremesinghe is Prime Minister,” said Dilan Perera, State Minister of Highways and a prominent SLFP member.