Lankan premier steps down to pave way for new regime

Sri Lanka’s new president Gotabhaya Rajapaksa gestures as he arrives at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 21 November 2019

Lankan premier steps down to pave way for new regime

  • Wickremesinghe credits his premiership for holding fair and free presidential polls

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe resigned from office on Wednesday, following the remarkable election victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was sworn in as the seventh president of the island nation two days ago.

The announcement Wednesday followed a meeting between the premier and Gotabaya, who won with a majority 1.3 million votes against his closest rival Sajith Premadasa.

Sajith represents the Democratic National Front (DNF), comprising the major United National Party (UNP), and other parties such as the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Tamil Unity Alliance and Sri Lanka Muslim Makkal Congress.

Speaking to the press, the outgoing premier, who will hand in his official resignation on Thursday morning, said that the new president, who gained a massive mandate from the people, wished to form his own government to implement his manifesto in the coming days.

Opposition leader and former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa will be sworn in as prime minister at 1 p.m. on Thursday, according to reliable government sources.

Although he has a majority in the Parliament, Wickremesinghe said it was better to give way for a new government under the new regime.

He added that in the past five years, he had worked to ensure democracy, freedom of expression, the right to information, equality and reconciliation in the country.

Wickremesinghe said that being able to hold the last presidential election in a free, independent, and fair manner was a credit to his premiership.

HIGHLIGHT

• The outgoing premier said the new president, who gained a massive mandate from the people, wished to form his own government to implement his manifesto in the coming days.

“The future will give us the correct judgment on what we have done,” he said, adding that he “valued and respected” democracy. 

“I act democratically. Accordingly, I have decided to resign from the post of prime minister, allowing the new president to form a new government. I will inform the president of this decision tomorrow, Thursday,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, India’s Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar paid a courtesy visit to Gotabaya before extending an invitation to visit India. Gotabaya accepted the invitation and will visit on Nov. 29.

Dr. Jaishankar was the first leader to visit Sri Lanka after the new president took office as the head of the state.

Following his swearing-in ceremony on Monday, a number of ministers submitted their resignations from their portfolios to help the new regime form a government of its own.

On Wednesday afternoon, governors from the nine provinces were forced to tender their resignations.

As soon as he took over, Gotabaya appointed allies to key positions. The president’s first appointment was former Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera as secretary to the president, followed by former Central Bank Deputy Governor S.R. Attygalle, who was appointed as treasury secretary. Finance Ministry Secretary and Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne was made the new defense secretary.

Meanwhile, a group of members of the UNP have started campaigning for the defeated Sajith to become the leader of the opposition when the new premier takes over. Sajith resigned from the post of deputy leader of UNP following his defeat at the polls.

Gotabaya, who contested the presidential election in 2019, won more than 52 percent of the nearly 16 million possible votes on this occasion.


India moves Kashmiri village leaders to safety after wave of attacks

Updated 4 min 40 sec ago

India moves Kashmiri village leaders to safety after wave of attacks

  • Separatists fighting Indian rule in the disputed region have stepped up attacks on lower level politicians
  • Two security officials said that around 500 politicians had been moved since Thursday

SRINAGAR: India has shifted scores of village and municipality leaders, mostly from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, to secure locations in Kashmir after a spate of militant attacks, police and two security officials said on Friday.
Separatists fighting Indian rule in the disputed region have stepped up attacks on lower level politicians, many of whom do not have personal security guards, in recent weeks.
“It is a temporary arrangement,” Kashmir valley’s police chief Vijay Kumar told Reuters. “We will devise a strategy to provide security to those who are vulnerable.”
Two security officials, asking not to be named, said that around 500 politicians had been moved since Thursday, after militants shot dead a village council leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in southern Kashmir.
Many of those under protection have been housed in hotels and government buildings guarded by paramilitary troops, one official said. “We don’t want to take any chances,” he said.
Sofi Yousuf, a BJP vice president in Kashmir, said that his colleagues were being targeted to prevent the party from expanding in the Himalayan region, where insurgents have waged war against New Delhi since the late 1980s.
“They want to create a fear psychosis on the ground,” Yousuf said.
The federal government has been trying to promote political activities since it revoked Kashmir’s special status in an attempt to draw it closer to the rest of the country.
But the loss of special privileges stoked anger across the region and this week authorities imposed a strict lockdown on the first anniversary of that decision.
Underlining the difficulties the government faces in restoring normalcy to Kashmir, around a dozen BJP members resigned from the party this week, fearing militant attacks.