President cancels Jaffna visit due to unscheduled meetings

President Maithripala Sirisena has cancelled a visit to Jaffna today, the New Indian Express reported.  A spokesman of the President told Express that “unscheduled meetings” in Colombo led to the cancellation

“But he will be visiting Jaffna on January 25 or any other suitable date before that,” the spokesman added.

In Jaffna he was to have inaugurated an island-wide mobile app facility to get in touch with the President and track the progress of requests through ministries and departments in the Center. He was also to release about 600 acres of private land presently held by the military.

The President may have been held back by the developing political situation in South Sri Lanka with a resurgent former President Mahinda Rajapaksa vowing to overthrow the Sirisena-Wickemesinghe coalition government in 2017.

The Joint Opposition group and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by Rajapaksa are gearing up for “frenetic political activity” to bring about a regime change this year.

With a Sirisena group member Priyankara Jayaratne resigning from his post of State Minister, and another State  Minister Palaitha Range Bandara wondering if there is any point in being a minister without work, the media has been speculating about more resignations from the United National Party (UNP)-Sri Lanka Freedom Party Sirisena (SLFP-Sirisena ) coalition and crossovers to the Joint Opposition led by Rajapaksa.

With President Sirisena overturning many decisions of UNP ministers, UNP backbenchers in parliament got worried about the President’s own commitment to the sustenance of the coalition government and the prospects of the government parties in the local bodies and Provincial Council elections in 2017.

Thirty UNPs met the President last Friday in regard to this and the President assured them that he is committed to the coalition. Later he publicly stated that he would not tolerate any party member or coalition partner having links with Rajapaksa.

However, several issues in the coalition remain unresolved. The latest is the disagreement over the deal the UNP-led government had entered into with a Chinese state owned company to manage the Hambantota port.

Disapproving the deal to give the Chinese company 80 percent of the stake in the port for 99 years, the President recently appointed his own representative in the negotiating committee. Given this, there is speculation that he will not attend the January 7 signing ceremony, if it is held at all.

Meanwhile, dissatisfaction and unrest are brewing in North Sri Lanka over the slow pace of post-war reconciliation mechanisms.

Briefing Express on the emerging situation, Northern Provincial Council (NPC) member M.K. Shivajilingam said that the President has not kept his promise to return private lands taken by the military during the war and after. He has released only bits here and there. According to Northern Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran, only 5.2 percent of the land has been returned.

Government has rejected the demand for an international judicial mechanism to go into war crimes charges by the military. But it has not set up even a domestic judicial mechanism. The Office of Missing Persons exists only on paper. All major parties of the majority Sinhalese community have rejected the Tamils’ call for a federal constitution and the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

Meanwhile, further centralization is taking place with the Governor of the Northern Province Reginold Cooray setting up an office in his official premises to channel peoples’ complaints to the President.

“He could have set up this facility in the Jaffna Secretariat or the Northern Provincial Council. When there is an elected government, why not allow it to be the channel of communication with the President? The Governor’s action comes in the wake of Tamils’ demands that the Governor be figure made a figurehead under the elected Chief Minister,” Shivajilingam said.


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