Much anticipated all party talks with President Maithripala Sirisena ended inconclusively last night, with both sides digging in their heels and the political deadlock set to continue.
The meeting was the first time President Sirisena, ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his controversially appointed successor Mahinda Rajapaksa sat down for talks since the crisis erupted on October 26.
President Sirisena continued to move the goalposts at the multi-party talks, insisting that such a key vote must be taken by name, rather than by voice. Amid major disruptions and outright violence by UPFA MPs aligned with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya took three votes by voice last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, ruling on all three occasions that the controversially appointed Prime Minister had been defeated in the House.
“The President requested that voting on the no confidence motion be held by name or through electronic voting,” the Presidential Media Division said following the crucial talks.
The UNP had vowed to deliver 113 affidavits pledging support to Wickremesinghe to the Presidential Secretariat by 10AM today, UNP MP Ajith P Perera told journalists outside the Secretariat on a stormy evening.
“We placed our cards on the table. If they have doubts about the Speaker’s rulings they should challenge them with a motion and pass it,” said Lakshman Kiriella, senior UNP MP who attended the talks. “The response from the President was nil,” he added.
As clouds gathered over the iconic Secretariat building facing Galle Face, hopes were riding on the discussion, that party leaders could find consensus to pull the country out of crisis and constitutional deadlock that has persisted for three weeks.
Lawmakers told President Sirisena that Parliament had spoken, and the Speaker’s ruling had gone unchallenged in the House. The only way to change that was to challenge the Speaker’s ruling on Standing Orders 76 (1). “The motion against the Speaker’s rulings had to be passed in Parliament and not in the Presidential Secretariat – once the speaker makes a ruling, neither the court nor the President can overturn that – that is intrinsic to the separation of powers doctrine,” an opposition MP argued during the meeting.
The Opposition even offered to help the UPFA to suspend standing orders at today’s parliamentary session in order to help the Rajapaksa faction to bring the motion, but the UPFA refused to be moved by the proposal, it is learned. At one point UPFA MP Dinesh Gunewardane even referred to the three sittings of Parliament last week as meetings of a ‘gamsabha’ presided over by Karu Jayasuriya.
President Sirisena had joined in the UPFA chorus that the process used to pass the no confidence motion was illegal, sources at the meeting said.
JHU General Secretary Champika Ranawaka was particularly forceful during the meeting, sources said. He accused the President of pulling the stunt out of the blue and plunging the country into crisis, proroguing Parliament to win MPs and eventually dissolving Parliament when he could not muster the numbers. “Parliament met only because of a court order,” he told Sirisena.
UPFA MPs Wimal Weerawansa and S.B. Dissanayake walked out to address the media, doubling down on the claims that the Speaker had violated standing orders and citing procedural issues with how the No Confidence Motion was passed in Parliament. “The Speaker is being stubborn,” said Dissanayake.
Speaker Jayasuriya declined to attend yesterday’s meeting. However, he did speak with President Sirisena on the phone, it is learned. The President had requested the Speaker to give the Rajapaksa faction one more opportunity to show their numbers, it is learnt. The telephone call was reportedly heated.
JVP decided to boycott talks, saying prophetically in a strongly worded letter to President Sirisena that a solution would not be reached through discussions with him. “You are the architect the anarchy and instability the country has been subjected to,” the JVP letter signed by Leader Anura Dissanayake charged, “only you can correct it.” Accusing the President of instigating a coup to achieve his own political ends, Dissanayake’s letter said it was the first time in 70 years that such instability had continued for so long in the country.
Parliament will reconvene today, with a party leaders meeting scheduled for 10AM. This is likely to be another stormy meeting with the UPFA MPs at loggerheads with the rest of the parties represented in Parliament.