Ready to don former role, says Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Opposition accuses President of threatening its legislator

Calling on an increasingly vocal political Opposition to engage in “civilised politics without misleading the public”, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he was ready to don his former role as war-time Defence Secretary, a period that critics associate with repression and reprisals.

According to a statement from the President’s office Mr. Rajapaksa, speaking in the eastern Ampara district on Saturday, said: “People and Maha Sangha [Buddhist clergy] expect from me the role played by me as the Defence Secretary before I assumed Presidency. LTTE terrorists carried out a suicide bomb attack…targeting me. People are aware of the fate of the terrorist leader who led this attack,” he said, referring to Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was killed by the Sri Lankan armed forces in 2009.

Stating that he was ready to play “either role”, President Rajapaksa said he would not “entertain lumpen politics”. His remarks come amid growing criticism from the country’s political opposition, over his government’s policies, especially its management of Covid-19. The main Opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB or United People’s Front), has termed the President’s remarks “a threat” to its parliamentarian Harin Fernando, who recently made a scathing attack on the government in Parliament, blaming the President.

Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa has said: “I will not let a strand of hair on Harin Fernando be harmed. From this day onwards, the President and the government should be responsible for his safety.”

Further, parliamentarian Mr. Fernando has sought police protection for his life following President Rajapaksa’s remarks. The MP in a letter to the Inspector General of Police, released to the media, said: “The President refers to me by name and addresses speeches made by me in Parliament … The President clearly insinuates that he is capable of having me “killed like a dog” if I continue saying things that displease him.” Mr. Fernando said he was “painfully aware that many journalists, activists and Members of Parliament who criticised the President when he was Defence Secretary have since either disappeared or been assassinated.”

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