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… Says he doesn’t serve with eye on elections

By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has claimed that a youth recently inquired from him why a referendum couldn’t be conducted to ascertain whether the electorate approved him extending his first term by two years as Covid-19 deprived him of 2020 and 2021.

President Rajapaksa said so addressing an event to mark the naming of Siyambalanduwa Maha Vidyalaya, Moneragala, as a national school last Friday.

The last presidential election was held in Nov 2019. In terms of the 19th Amendment, enacted in 2015, the next presidential election is scheduled for 2025. The 19th Amendment restricted both parliamentary and presidential terms to five years each whereas they were six years previously.

A statement issued by the President’s Media Division (PMD) quoted President Rajapaksa as having told the gathering that the youth had approached him when he recently visited the Dalada Maligawa. President Rajapaksa has told the youth that he should be appointed an advisor to the President.

Declaring that the people realised difficulties, President Rajapaksa has emphasised the responsibility on the part of the government to explain the real situation to them.

Reiterating his commitment to fulfiling his promises at the presidential election, President Rajapaksa vowed to achieve his targets during the next three years.

Sri Lanka has had only one referendum (1982).

Referring to stripping of Susil Premjayantha of his portfolios on 04 January, two days after the veteran politician flayed the government over severe difficulties experienced by the public, President Rajapaksa stressed that the lawmaker concerned couldn’t absolve his responsibilities by blaming others.

The sacked Colombo District MP found fault with Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena and Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage as well as those who took utterly irresponsible policy decisions. MP Premjayantha declared that the situation was so bad that it was too late to take remedial measures. The one-time SLFP General Secretary asserted that the government had caused irreparable damage.

Commending the armed forces for what he called the constructive role played by them, President Rajapaksa strongly criticized both officials and members of Parliament. The President said that when inquiries were made as regards responsibility pertaining to some work, some conveniently pointed the finger at the State Minister, who in turn claimed it was in the sphere of the cabinet minister. The President said: “Sometimes, they say the issue at hand came under Provincial Councils. Officials say they are hindered by laws.”

President Rajapaksa said that he had to strip Premjayantha of his portfolios as he faulted the government. “If the lawmaker alleged that the government was wrong, he, too, should accept responsibility,” President Rajapaksa said, declaring that all ruling party members of Parliament were collectively responsible for the government.

The government parliamentary group consists of 145 members, including National List MPs. Of whom, 117 represent the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the main constituent of the ruling coalition.

Premjayantha was sworn in as State Minister of Education Reforms, Promotion of Open Universities and Distance Learning on August 26, 2021. President Rajapaksa offered the ministry to Premjayantha after Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa rejected it.

President Rajapaksa said that he wouldn’t form a government with a section of the Opposition to overcome the restrictions imposed on the number of ministers and State and Deputy Ministers. Pointing out that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution limited the number of cabinet and State/Deputy Ministers to 30 and 40, respectively, President Rajapaksa said that though all wanted cabinet portfolios he was not in a position to appease them.

There is provision for breaking the limits in case the ruling party forms government with the Opposition.

President Rajapaksa said that those who really wanted to serve the people didn’t require portfolios. Urging both members of parliament, including the Opposition and the public service to support good work undertaken by the government, President Rajapaksa emphasized that he didn’t serve with an eye on elections.

President Rajapaksa called for the steady support of the public service during the remaining three years.

Commenting on what he called the successful fight against the Covid-19, President Rajapaksa declared that there was no alternative but vaccination. The President appealed for those who hadn’t received the booster jab to visit the nearest vaccination centre.

President Rajapaksa claimed that since the last presidential election Sri Lanka hadn’t obtained any foreign loans. Whatever the reasons, the previous government had obtained loans for, his government was now faced with the daunting task of repaying USD 6.3 bn, annually.

The President expressed the hope that tourism could achieve 400,000 visitors this year thereby doubling earnings in USD to 10 bn. The President said at the time of 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, Sri Lanka received nearly 200,000 visitors. Commenting on the extremely difficult economic conditions, President Rajapaksa explained the steps taken by him to ease pressure on the foreign reserves. The President said that he ordered a ban on vehicle imports, importation of luxury goods as well as a range of food items to save foreign exchange.

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