Responding to repeated scornful remarks made by Sirisena that Wickremesinghe was out of touch with Sri Lankan culture, the UNP leader said he can only reply according to his cultural upbringing.
Drawing from 'Jathaka Tales' on how not to be deterred by adverse comments, Wickremesinghe, addressing an event organised by Professionals for Democracy, said that the Buddha had taught to not internalise undue criticism.
“When a Brahman came and scolded Buddha, he asked the Brahman what he does when a guest who visits his home and food offered is rejected. Brahman replied that he will take it, so the Buddha told the Brahman, I didn’t scold, you scolded me, I didn’t insult, you insulted me, I didn’t find fault, but you found fault with me, Brahman all that is for you, it is yours to keep. I don’t say anything more to the President,” Wickremesinghe said to an enthusiastic audience.
The UNP leader also noted that Sirisena dedicated his entire speech at the special Sri Lanka Freedom Party convention to speak of him, not the founder of the party S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike.
Wickremesinghe in a cheerful mood, kicked off his address with the now infamous hoppers metaphor linked to the 2015 Presidential Elections, saying, “this is the thachchiya (pan) speaking,” to recount the expectations of the movement.
“What we expected was to bring in democratic practice, investigating corruption, development and reconciliation. What happened on October 26 has surprised many, and they have lost faith,” he said.
“But we can be happy that we have established democracy in these three years.”
The ousted Prime Minister spoke triumphantly of being able to establish independent commissions, and systems to make crucial appointments such as judges and the Inspector General of Police, after taking over.
“We now see these institutions working independently,” he noted, adding that the democratic freedoms were not crushed yet.
Using the platform to respond to President Sirisena’s stance that he would refuse to appoint Ranil Wickremesinghe, even if all 225 Members of Parliament insisted, Wickremesinghe noted that the Executive is trying to by-pass Parliament.
“This is not my problem, it is the President’s problem; he is trying to kick Parliament in the teeth & carry on. There are only 225 Members in Parliament, and he is saying he will not listen to their opinion … This is what he is trying to do. A country should work according to the Constitution, and a democratic country should work according to democratic principles,” Wickremesinghe noted.
Using the same Maha Nayaka and Viharadhipathi reference employed by Sirisena during his address at the SLFP convention to hit back at him, Wickremesinghe noted that the question was about neither, but concerns the Vinaya Pitaka, insisting that the President should follow the Constitution.
“The country is not governed by the President, it is ruled by the Government and the Cabinet. The Government is managed through the decisions of the Cabinet, which works on collective responsibility. So how can he ignore the opinion of Parliament? Now he is publicly saying that he doesn’t need Parliament and is going against the Constitution.”
Noting that the majority in Parliament has the power to pass legislation and manage State finances, Wickremesinghe hailed the efforts of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya in safeguarding the independence and the power of Parliament.
Promising to uphold Parliamentary democracy, the former Prime Minister assured the audience that he will fight on.
“This fight is not over from there, this is not just about one personality. We have to safeguard the independent institutions more,” he said, noting that the powers of Executive Presidency have to be curtailed. “Our journey is not just defeating the coup, but to strengthen our democracy.”
Speaking at the event, constitutional expert and Parliamentarian Jayampathy Wickramaratne insisted that there was no room for compromise in the current crisis.
“There is a threat to democracy now. If we submit now to President Sirisena’s demand that UNF must nominate someone else as Prime Minister, we can never talk about abusing Presidential power again. We cannot stand down. The decision is not his, the Constitution does not say that PM must be someone able to work with the President,” Dr. Wickramaratne insisted. Drawing from the political history of the country, the Parliamentarian noted that past Presidents have listened to the majority opinion in appointing the Prime Minister, even though the preferred candidate was different.
“President Kumaratunga wanted to appoint Lakshman Kadirgamar as the Prime Minister, but the majority wanted Mahinda Rajapaksa, so she listened and did accordingly,” he recalled.