COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s new government on Sunday accused toppled strongman Mahinda Rajapakse of having tried to stage a coup to cling to power after losing last week’s presidential election.
Rajapakse, South Asia’s longest-serving leader before losing last Thursday’s polls, had been widely praised for conceding defeat to Maithripala Sirisena before the final results had been announced.
But a top aide to Sirisena told reporters that 69-year-old Rajapakse had in fact tried to persuade the island’s army and police chiefs to help him stay in office with the use of force.
“People think it was a peaceful transition. It was anything but,” Mangala Samaraweera, who is expected to be announced as Sirisena’s foreign minister, told a press conference in Colombo.
“The first thing the new cabinet will investigate is the coup and conspiracy by president Rajapakse,” Samaraweera said.
“He stepped down only when the army chief and the police Inspector General [N.K. Illangakoon] refused to go along with him,” the official added.
Illangakoon was “very vocal and did not want to be a party to this coup” while army chief Daya Ratnayake also refused to deploy troops for Rajapakse to seize power, said Samaraweera.
The state attorney general’s department also warned that there would be “dangerous consequences.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry and even Sirisena himself had thanked Rajapakse for quitting in the early hours of Friday, after his defeat in an election he had seemed certain to win when he called it in November.
Samaraweera said diplomatic pressure had also been brought to bear on Rajapakse, who came in for widespread criticism during his decade in office over his administration’s human rights record.
“Some world leaders also spoke with president Rajapakse and prevailed on him to ensure a peaceful transition,” Samaraweera said. “I don’t know who had spoken [to him], but we know some leaders did talk to him,” the official added.
Samaraweera said it was important for the new administration to disclose what had happened while results were being released, and an independent probe would be a priority of the new cabinet.
Sirisena is expected to deliver an address to the nation later on Sunday from the hill station of Kandy, buoyed by securing a parliamentary majority after engineering a spate of defections from his predecessor.
Another top lieutenant said Sirisena had already received the backing of more than 40 lawmakers who were previously loyal to Rajapakse, virtually assuring approval for his program of radical constitutional reforms.
“We now have more than we need in parliament,” Rajitha Senaratne told Agence France-Presse.
“We can have our legislative program approved without any difficulty whatsoever,” he added.
Sirisena previously had the backing of 89 lawmakers and needed another 24 to secure a simple majority in the 225-member house.
The new leader, who is himself a defector from Rajapakse’s party like Sirisena, has already pledged to reverse many of the constitutional changes made by his predecessor which gave huge powers to the president.