A police alert shortly after President Maithripala Sirisena’s controversial remarks heightened fears of a “coup” similar to the alleged action of his predecessor in trying to remain in power by using force.
Police across the capital were ordered by a senior Deputy Inspector-General to remain on maximum alert with further instructions due on Thursday as the nation grappled with Sirisena’s controversial remarks last week.
President Sirisena signalled his honeymoon with the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe may be over after lambasting the country’s top three anti-graft bodies for politically-motivated prosecutions.
Two of the three institutions — the police Criminal Investigations Division and the newly set up Financial Crimes Investigation Division — are under the Law and Order ministry of Sagala Ratnayake, a strong Wickremesinghe loyalist.
“It looks like the police thought that the President will take over the Law and Order ministry,” an official source said. “Police went on alert to prevent a possible street protest by the UNP (United National Party of Wickremesinghe).”
Several senior police officers are miffed with Minister Sagala Ratnayake who recently shot down extravagant spending proposals of the police while marking their 150th anniversary. Ratnayake was also reportedly cross with police chief’s lengthy lectures.
As the anticipated take over of the Law and Order ministry failed to materialise, police turned the alert into a “special crime busting exercise” with Senior DIG Nandana Munasinghe saying the alert was to catch criminals.
There was no official comment from the police (there is no police spokesman, an issue the national police commission promised to take up with the authorities this week), but there had been attempts to play down the unusual police alert, the first since the new government came to power.
There was also speculation of trouble at Temple Trees, the official residence of the Prime Minister, as police closed several roads in the area, but residents said it was only for the Walukarama perahera.
Both the President and the Prime Minister attended the temple ceremony, but details of their discussions on the latest crisis were not immediately known.
The President reportedly complained that he was unhappy over the prosecutions of senior minister A. H. M. Fowzie who is charged with misusing a state vehicle.
However, in his emotionally-charged hard-hitting speech, Sirisena said he condemned with disgust the hauling of “war heroes” before courts on corruption charges.
He was particularly unhappy over the prosecution of three retired navy admirals and former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse who have been accused of causing a loss of over 11,400 million to the state when they were in power.
The President was also angry over the remanding of military intelligence officers accused of being involved in the abduction of cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda in January 2010, two days before a presidential election.
The presidential outburst was seen by many police officers as a move that could lead to the head of state taking over the Law and Order ministry away from UNP control.
Senior police sources said the Wednesday night action was similar to an order given by the then police chief N. K. Illangakoon while election results indicated Mahinda Rajapaksa was losing the presidency.
Foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera has lodged a complaint that Rajapaksa tried to use force to remain in office and prevent Sirisena taking over the leadership of the country, but only the intervention of then attorney general prevented a coup. The former leader has dismissed the coup allegation as politically-motivated.
It had been alleged that police were to back Rajapaksa, a charge subsequently denied by Illangakoon who has since retired. The authorities are yet to disclose the investigation findings into the events on the night of Election Day in January 2015.
Courtesy: The Island