Sri Lankan PM urges parties to work together for country

COLOMBO • Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe urged Sri Lanka's parties to work together as he began forming a new government after a surge in support for his reform-driven agenda in Monday's elections.

Mr Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP) more than doubled its seats in Parliament, easily beating former president Mahinda Rajapaksa's party, dashing the former strongman's hopes of returning to power.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr Wickremesinghe called for unity in a country still riven by the scars of a decades-long civil war that pitted Tamil separatists against the army.

"I want everyone to come together now, think of the country, think of the people," he said. "We can achieve unity in this country... I don't think anyone can opt out. No one can go back to divisive politics. We will not allow that."

He will be sworn in as prime minister this week after his UNP won 106 seats in the 225-member House, up from 40 in the previous election. That is short of a majority, but a pledge of "issue-based" support from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which holds the balance of power with 16 seats, will allow the party to carry out promised political and economic reforms.

"We will sit in the opposition but extend support to the government," TNA lawmaker Dharmalingam Sithadthan said yesterday.

"It will be issue-based support, but we think we can work with the prime minister."

President Maithripala Sirisena, who won a surprise victory over Mr Rajapaksa in a Jan 8 presidential election, had appointed Mr Wickremesinghe as the head of a minority government after the election.

Mr Rajapaksa, whose United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) came second with 95 seats, will sit on the opposition bench after conceding that his "dream of becoming prime minister has faded away".

But the UPFA is divided between those loyal to the former leader and supporters of Mr Sirisena, the nominal head of the party. Sources said Mr Wickremesinghe will likely engineer defections from the fractured opposition.

Mr Wickremesinghe's UNP has said it will investigate allegations that up to 40,000 Tamils were killed by government forces under Mr Rajapaksa's command in 2009, during the final stages of the war against Tamil separatist rebels.

Mr Rajapaksa has long resisted calls for an independent investigation. But he remains hugely popular among many Sinhalese for presiding over the brutal defeat of Tamil guerillas after their 37-year war for a separate homeland.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2015, with the headline 'Sri Lankan PM urges parties to work together for country'. Print Edition | Subscribe