Colombo (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s president announced Monday he will not retire at the end of his term despite a previous pledge, and said he will seek to form a new government excluding politicians who have committed murder.
Maithripala Sirisena told a public rally in the former war zone of Batticaloa that he had unfinished business to attend to and he no longer intends to retire in 2020 when his five-year term finishes.
“There are many who ask if I will retire in 2020,” he said. “I will not retire. There is so much work to be done.”
The remarks at a rally in the country’s east ended speculation about the 66 year-old’s political future, and could escalate a clash with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Relations between Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) have soured since both suffered humiliating losses in February’s local council elections.
Speculation that Sirisena would run again had compounded problems between the parties as Wickremesinghe has signalled his intention to be a candidate at the next presidential election, due by late 2019.
The row deepened when the UNP, the senior partner in the coalition, accused Sirisena of supporting last month’s failed bid to impeach the prime minister.
There was no immediate response from the UNP to Sirisena’s announcement, seen as a de facto declaration of his candidacy despite a promise in his 2015 manifesto to be a one-term president.
Sirisena said Monday he wanted to unveil a new plan for the country.
“For this new programme that I will unveil soon I don’t need the support of politicians who have committed murder, those who are corrupt or have robbed public money,” he said.
“I ask how many political leaders are in the country who have not committed murder or robbed the people,” he said, in a thinly veiled reference to the former regime of Mahinda Rajapakse.
Former president Rajapakse put down the Tamil separatist struggle in May 2009 through a military assault which sparked allegations that up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed by troops.
Sirisena had pledged to ensure accountability for war atrocities, but has faced international criticism for being slow to deliver on accountability as well as ethnic reconciliation.
The SLFP is split between Sirisena and Rajapakse, but members of the faction loyal to Rajapakse sit with the opposition in parliament.