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SriLanka President Sirisena meets Tamil parties in a bid to prove majority

The Hindu reports that President Maithripala Sirisena on Wednesday reached out to Tamil leaders, apparently seeking their support even as his new coalition tries mustering strength to prove majority in Parliament.

Mr. Sirisena, whose 2015 victory is credited substantially to support from Sri Lanka’s minorities, convened two separate meetings with members of the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA), who represent Malayaha Tamils or hill country Tamils, and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), representing the island’s northern Tamils.

The developments come in the wake of a political tug of war in Sri Lanka sparked by Mr. Sirisena’s sudden decision to sack his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on October 26. He swore in former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister shortly after, and prorogued Parliament for over a fortnight when Mr. Wickremesinghe challenged the new dispensation to a floor test. 

Following the TPA’s meeting on Wednesday, its leader Mano Ganesan, who was Cabinet Minister in the national unity government that fell, tweeted: “As a civilized political entity, we as Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) team of all Six (6) MPs met President @MaithripalaS and told him that we can’t accept his invitation to join his government. #lka.”

Mr. Sirisena reportedly placed three options on the table according to The Hindu newspaper in his discussion with the TPA — whose six MPs are in the coalition led by Mr. Wickremesinghe. One, the TPA could join his “new government” with Mr. Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, accept ministerial portfolios and cooperate. Two, abstain in the event of a vote in Parliament. Three, ensure that the sacked Mr. Wickremesinghe gives way to another leader from his United National Party (UNP), according to a political source.

Asked about the meeting, Mr. Ganesan said he conveyed to the President the TPA’s inability to entertain the request to replace Mr. Wickremesinghe from within the UNP. “I told His Excellency that if he felt he could not work with Mr. Wickremesinghe any more, he should have raised the matter earlier with the other constituents in the UNP-led United National Front, including the TPA. The President did not respond to that,” he told had told The Hindu.

Later, Mr. Sirisena met a delegation of TNA leaders to discuss the political crisis. Acknowledging that the northern Tamils had backed him in 2015, he is said to have reiterated his commitment to resolving their pending concerns and to the development of the war-affected north and east. Mr. Sirisena reportedly asked the TNA to “stay neutral” in the event of the vote in the House.

Last week, following a discussion with leaders of its constituents, the TNA said it would vote in favour of a no-confidence motion against the government headed by Mr. Rajapaksa and that “remaining neutral would pave the way for achieving an undemocratic end by force.”

Issuing a statement on Wednesday’s meeting, the TNA said its delegation explained to the President the reasons for its decision and said it cannot be reversed. “The TNA will stand by the said decisions,” the statement said.

The TNA also conveyed to him that it would “extend to the President its fullest support with regard to any future steps taken by him to stabilise the political situation in the country with the cooperation of all political parties,” and urged the President to reconvene parliament earlier than November 14. A statement from the President’s office said the President underscored the need for cooperation in ensuring that the ongoing developmental activities undertaken by a Presidential Task Force overseeing the north and east are completed.

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