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Rare banter between Sri Lanka PM and opposition leader as they agree to cooperate

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ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, long considered bitter rivals, shared a rare moment of apparent camaraderie in parliament on Wednesday (18), trading lighthearted barbs while agreeing to cooperate in raising funds for an essential drug.

Speaking in parliament, Premadasa proposed that main opposition Samgi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MPs Harsha de Silva, Kabir Hashim and Eran Wickramaratne be considered for chairmen positions in the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) and Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).

The SJB had previously refused to support the government, of which Wickremesinghe is now prime minister, but later agreed to extend its support for any measures that will help Sri Lanka out of the prevailing economic crisis. SJB parliamentarian S M Marikkar earlier in the day had threatened to withdraw such support if Wickremesinghe attempted to woo individual party members into the new government.

“I would like to once again invite the PM to take us up on our proposal to provide the three economic experts who are in parliament with those positions. There is absolutely no issue in working with the government on programmes that are beneficial to the people and to the country,” said Premadasa.

Responding to the former United National Party (UNP) deputy leader, Wickremesinghe said candidates from the various opposition parties including the SJB would have to be considered for positions in the parliamentary committees.

“Certainly to have Dr Harsha de Silva working with me is a great pleasure. I mean, he has worked with me earlier. I have no problem at all,” said Wickremesinghe.

Commenting on the incidents of mob violence on May 09 that saw state-backed mobs attacking peaceful protestors and the private residences and offices of a number of government MPs torched in retaliation, Wickremesinghe said the perpetrators of said violence represented various political parties including the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

“But I know that the SJB doesn’t engage in violence. They have no time to even think about torching houses because they spend 24 hours a day thinking about how to corner me,” said Wickremesinghe with a chuckle, inviting roars of laughter from both sides of the aisle.

The prime minister said the SJB was welcome to help raise funds to procure at least one out of 14 essential drugs that are currently in short supply. Premadasa had previously offered to help through its ‘Husma’ (Breath) initiative to provide medical equipment to hospitals.

“If you can offer to help with one of the drugs, I will inform our embassies and provide someone from the ministry to bring it down for us. We’ll work together for that,” said Wickremesinghe.

“We primarily focus on hospital equipment. I have to tell you what we can do. We will not offer to do what we cannot do. But tell us the medicine and we will coordinate with your officials,” responded Premadasa.

“Being the opposition, I doubt we’ll have the funds for the whole country, but we’ll try as much possible to provide the important life saving medicines,” he said, to which Wickremesinghe responded that the SJB could raise funds from the private sector.

Responding to Wickremesinghe’s earlier comment about the SJB working round the clock to sideline him, Premadasa said: “Our party does not spend 24/7/365 on marginalising you.”

“Then how many hours?” shot back Wickremesinghe, still laughing.

“We actually want to incorporate you,” replied Premadasa.

“Since you are just an individual in parliament, with just one seat – I mean we respect you. Y ou have been a former prime minister several times over. And you were my political leader when I was in the UNP.

“One thing my father has taught us… We respect leaders. Unlike many who have a distaste for you, we respect political leaders. I don’t want to marginalise you. Since you’re just a singular person, I will incorporate you; don’t worry,” said Premadasa. (Colombo/May18/2022)


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