A television network owned by the family of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was suspended by the island’s telecom regulator yesterday, worsening a power struggle in the fractious ruling coalition.
The closure of Telshan Network comes days after the station criticised President Maithripala Sirisena, who promised to end an era of draconian restrictions on the
Sirisena, who rules in an unsteady coalition with Wickremesinghe, has specific oversight of the telecom regulator and the decision has aggravated frictions between the men.
The network, owned by Wickremesinghe’s eldest brother, was shut after the regulator accused its owners
of defaulting on licence fees.
The network has denied the allegations, insisting it has paid its dues.
Wickremesinghe’s allies from his United National Party – which backed Sirisena to election victory in 2015 – protested the decision in parliament.
“This is not something that we can accept. We are looking into this,” said Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who said he was kept in the dark about the decision.
The closure is regarded as the first act of censorship of a broadcaster by Sirisena.
In November he blocked Sri Lankans from being able to access the London-based Lanka E News website after it published an expose alleging graft in his office.
Soon after being elected, Sirisena had lifted the Internet censorship and media restrictions used freely by his predecessor, strongman
president Mahinda Rajapakse.
Some 17 journalists and media employees were killed in Sri Lanka during Rajapakse’s regime, which also blocked
Sirisena’s commanding position has waned as ties with his erstwhile ally have soured. The president has accused Wickremesinghe’s party of corruption, while the UNP says Sirisena
has obstructed reforms.
The gulf between the leaders has widened since their coalition was thumped in local elections in February, and hit a new low in April when Sirisena loyalists unsuccessfully sought to oust Wickremesinghe.
Yesterday, UNP won the secret ballot in parliament for the deputy speaker’s position left vacant by the resignation of Thilanga Sumathipala, a loyalist of President Sirisena.
UNP nominee Ananda Kumarasiri was elected deputy speaker with 97 for and 53 against in the 225-member assembly while 25 members were absent from the House. Kumarasiris defeated Sudarshani Fernandopulle, another
Sumathipala and 15 other Sirisena loyalists had walked out of the government in April after they voted against Wickremesinghe in a no-trust vote.
The parliamentary competition between Sirisena loyalists and the presidents unity government partner UNP followed last week’s anti-UNP outburst from Sirisena who blamed the UNP for bungling in
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