Sri Lanka's Sirisena promises new era of clean government

Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena (front) looks on during a ceremony to swear in Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the United National Party, as Sri Lanka's new prime minister in Colombo, August 21, 2015. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Tuesday promised a new era of clean government, capitalising on a strong voter mandate for a government of national unity to pursue economic and political reforms.

Speaking at the first session of the new parliament elected last month, Sirisena said he would ensure that officials responsible for wrongdoing under his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa would be held to account.

“I will not hesitate to strengthen the current institutional framework to fight against corruption and take action - without any favour - against those who are now facing charges for misusing state properties,” he told parliament.

Some family members and allies of Rajapaksa, who defeated a 26-year Tamil insurgency in 2009, face charges of misusing state resources and corruption. Rajapaksa, who lost the presidency in January, failed in his comeback bid in the Aug. 17 election.

Sirisena also pledged a middle-path foreign policy. Under Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka leaned strongly towards China, alarming its neighbour India and isolating it from the West.

Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) have agreed to form a national unity government. Together, they account for about 85 percent of the 225-member legislature.

Before his speech, parliament unanimously elected UNP strongman Karu Jayasuriya as speaker while the deputy speaker was elected from Sririsena’s SLFP.

Appointing the cabinet of the grand coalition is on hold, for now, as parliamentary approval is needed to increase its size. Sirisena is expected to appoint more than 100 ministers on Friday.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Alison Williams