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Was transfer of power actually smooth?

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Although former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was praised for ensuring a smooth transfer of power to the new president, details that have surfaced after its exit mar the picture.

Former common opposition circles, on Friday, claimed that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the former Secretary of Defence attempted to retain power through military intervention and emergency orders. They claimed that senior state officials refused to sign orders pertaining to emergency rules and military intervention.

It was just speculation until Friday night before JHU Parliamentarian Athuraliye Rathana Thera dropped a bombshell during a television interview with the state run Rupavahini

Rathana Thera said that there was a last minute attempt by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family to remain in power with the support of the security forces. It sent shockwaves across the political circles as this statement came from a prominent person who was instrumental in bringing Maithripala Sirisena, Common Candidate of the opposition, to power. In addition to former President Rajapaksa, Former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa too was at the receiving end of the JHU Parliamentarian’s criticism.

Speaking to Rupavahini, Rathana Thera praised the Elections Commissioner for conducting a free and fair election under immense pressure from the Rajapaksa family. He stated that the Elections Commissioner should make a statement on the attempts of the former President to stay in power as well. This was also a controversial statement involving the presidential election of 2015 – which saw the downfall of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime.
However, the UPFA has not yet come up with an official response to this allegation. A spokesperson of the party on the condition of anonymity told ‘The Nation’ that President Rajapaksa would not have left office peacefully if there was a last minute attempt to retain power.

It appeared as if President Rajapaksa decided to relinquish his presidential powers peacefully. After a brief discussion with UNP National Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Rajapaksa decided to leave Temple Trees, his residence since 2005. He bade adieu to members of his staff and officials who were gathered at the Temple Trees on Thursday night. His wife Shiranthi Rajapaksa was also present at Temple Trees on Friday, but three sons, Namal, Yoshitha and Rohitha were in Tangalle.
There was one person at Temple Trees who looked extremely worried and pensive after election results were released. He was none other than former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the most powerful state official under the rule of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sources from Temple Trees added that the Defence Secretary looked extremely sad in the wee hours of Friday morning when the election results indicated a certain defeat for President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“Although the President seemed normal and calm about the transition of power, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa looked pensive and worried about the whole matter,” a strongman of the former government who was with the Rajapaksas on Thursday night told this reporter.

“He didn’t speak to anyone. He was in utter shock,” the strongman added.
The Colombo Telegraph, which was banned in Sri Lanka by President Rajapaksa’s government, had earlier reported that the president was planning to issue emergency regulations and stay in power. However, according to the reports, the Attorney General had refused to act on behalf of the former president.

Former Minister Rajitha Senaratne, who spoke to the media in the presence of Army Spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasuriya on Saturday, told the Army to follow orders to deploy troops in the capital city of Colombo. According to Senaratne, it was Army Commander Daya Rathnayake who refused to comply with orders pertaining to deployment of military.

Meanwhile, there was also speculation that the former Defence Secretary visited the Elections Department in the wee hours of Friday to interrupt the work of the Elections Commissioner. Many thought this speculation was true when election results were not released for almost an hour around 2.30 am on Friday.

When asked about this by ‘The Nation’ last evening whether the Defence Secretary visited the Elections Department in the wee hour of Friday, Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said it was an “utter lie”.

“There are lies (boru), utter lies (amuulika boru) and baseless lies (pattapal boru). This is a baseless lie,” the Elections Commissioner, who was widely appreciated for delivering his best during the election, told ‘The Nation’ Meanwhile Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara told BBC Sandeshaya that a request to support the former president to stay in power was not made from the Cabinet. He said that as a member of the Cabinet of Ministers he was sure that such a request was not made by Rajapaksa.
BBC Sandeshaya also added that two close aides of Rajapaksa claimed that the former president did not want to stay in power. Meanwhile BBC Sandeshaya also said that even if a request was made from the security forces, it would have been refused. Therefore, a lot of confusion still surrounds the “military intervention” story.

The former President left for his hometown Medamulana after leaving his official residence, Temple Trees. Rajapaksa did not have a personal residence in Colombo although he is entitled to one as the former President of the country. Until the house is finalized, the former President chose to stay in Medamulana.

Speaking to his supporters at his ancestral home in Medamulana, former President Rajapaksa said he came to Medamulana for a “holiday” and would continue to represent them in the country’s politics. He also said he had relinquished presidential powers and had handed over the country’s administration to the newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena.

A group of Sri Lanka Freedom Party Parliamentarians have explored the possibility of bringing former President Mahinda Rajapaksa back to Parliament and position him as the ‘alternate’ Prime Minister.

According to the constitution of Sri Lanka, the person who can draw the support of the majority of Parliamentarians in the house should be appointed as the Prime Minister of the country. At this point, a question arises as to who holds the majority power in the country’s legislature, President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday appointed UNP National Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister, minutes after taking oaths as the President of Sri Lanka. However, Wickremesinghe has to draw the support of at least 30 more MPs to form a majority in the country’s legislature.

Speaking to media a day after the defeat, Wimal Weerawansa said they would not allow former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to stay home enjoying his retirement.

He said the entire country was mourning after seeing the pictures of President Mahinda Rajapksa’s exit from Temple Trees and the people were even refusing to have their meals. It is now clear that Weerawansa, who was a prominent figure in President Rajapaksa’s election campaign, was trying to turn the President’s exit into a propaganda tactic. He also said that President Rajapaksa had to leave office, despite the fact that he had the majority support among the Sinhala-Buddhists who formed the majority of the country’s population, while adding Maithripala Sirisena rose to Presidency with “major support” from minorities.

Meanwhile, another school of thought emerging from the ruling party claim that Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva should be positioned as the alternate Prime Minister. It was also reported that some quarters of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party were collecting signatures from the party’s Parliamentarians to name Nimal Siripala de Silva as the country’s Prime Minister.

Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who is now a prominent figure in the Maithripala Sirisena administration, has commenced her clandestine operations to draw the support of UPFA MPs. A spokesman close to the former President said the task would be much easier than the past as Presidential powers now lie with Maithripala Sirisena who was previously the Common Candidate of the opposition. He said that a number of UPFA MPs have now expressed willingness to join hands with the new President.

However, when contacted by ‘The Nation’, Navin Dissanayake, a key Parliamentarian who played a prominent role in the Common Opposition said, the UNP National Leader would be in a position to draw the support of the majority of Parliamentarians.

Without the support of a majority, President Maithripala Sirisena will have to dissolve Parliament and seek another mandate from the people. Although it will give him enough parliamentary strength, a sudden general election, at this point, would hamper the 100 day program of the Sirsena administration.

The New Democratic Front, before the presidential election, promised to dissolve Parliament on April 23, after abolishing the Executive Presidency and introducing constitutional amendments.

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