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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Sri Lanka president vows never to reappoint ousted premier

But his bid to bring back the country's former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse has already failed

In this Nov. 13, 2018 photo, supporters of Sri Lanka's ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe celebrate after the Supreme Court suspended dissolution of parliament by President Maithripala Sirisena. AP
In this Nov. 13, 2018 photo, supporters of Sri Lanka's ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe celebrate after the Supreme Court suspended dissolution of parliament by President Maithripala Sirisena. AP

President Maithripala Sirisena on Sunday reignited the power struggle that has crippled Sri Lanka's government for more than a month, vowing never to reappoint arch-rival Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister.

Mr Wickremesinghe's party has a majority in parliament and Mr Sirisena's bid to bring back the country's former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse has already failed.

But Mr Sirisena choked back tears in a meeting with foreign correspondents as he accused Mr Wickremesinghe, who he sacked on October 26, of being "highly corrupt".

"Even if the UNP has the majority I told them not to bring Ranil Wickremesinghe before me, I will not make him prime minister," he said, referring to Mr Wickremesinghe's United National Party.

"Not in my lifetime," he added.

Mr Sirisena dismissed Mr Wickremesinghe following a host of personality and political clashes since they formed a coalition in 2015. He named Mr Rajapakse as new premier and tried to dissolve parliament but the Supreme Court and legislators blocked the president's moves.

Mr Wickremesinghe, who occupies the prime minister's residence, and Mr Rajapakse, who has the premier's official offices, have both refused to back down.

But the country officially has no prime minister, heightening international fears about Sri Lanka's stability and looming foreign debt repayments.

Mr Sirisena told foreign correspondents at his official residence that he will appoint a commission to investigate corruption under Mr Wickremesinghe since January 2015.

"He is corrupt. His economic policies are not good for local industries. He pursed an extremely liberal form of government that is not compatible with our culture."

Mr Sirisena fought back tears as he recalled how he asked Mr Wickremesinghe to step down in February when their respective parties were beaten in local council elections.

"I told him that we lost the election because his economic policies had failed. I told Ranil in this very room to step down, but he refused," Mr Sirisena said.

He added that there had been "over 100 instances" of open clashes between the two and that their power struggle had become an open secret in the cabinet.

Sri Lanka's parliament meets on November 27 and 29 to discuss a motion by the UNP to cut off government spending.

Government finances will stall on January 1 unless a 2019 budget is passed.

If the UNP wins the vote, it could force Mr Rajapakse to withdraw his claim to the leadership, and make Mr Sirisena to name a prime minister from the party.

"If the UNP shows a majority, I believe Mahinda will do the right thing [and stand down]," said Mr Sirisena, although he reiterated that he would still not reappoint Mr Wickremesinghe.

Mr Sirisena insisted that it was not a personality clash but a "disagreement over policy."

Asked if he could constitutionally ignore the leader of the largest single party in parliament, MrSirisena said he would rely on tradition.

"There is a tradition that the person appointed PM should be able to work with the president. I cannot work with Ranil. The UNP will have to bring somebody else."

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Read more:

Sri Lanka's new PM may lose budget even as he clings to power

Sri Lanka’s new foreign minister: crisis was a case of who reached for the gun first

Tamils fear bloody return of 'Lord of the Rings' Mahinda Rajapaksa

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