“Criticism is an important an important aspect of a democracy. I applaud those who criticize me,” the President said adding that he was happy he was able to restore the freedom of expression in the country.The President however said he had informed the SLFP and UPFA leaders including Dinesh Gunawardena and Vasudeva Nanayakkara that he was against granting nominations to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He said that all which he was able to achieve with the support of Parliament was possible as he was the President of the SLFP and the UPFA. Sirisena, as President of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), has been accused of betraying the January 8 mandate by agreeing to give Rajapaksa nominations from his party. “Mahinda Rajapaksa who was defeated on January 8th will be defeated again,” he said. President Maithripala Sirisena today broke his silence on the issue of granting former President Mahinda Rajapaksa nominations to contest the August 17 Parliament election, and said that he expects Rajapaksa to lose the election.Making a special statement today, Sirisena said that he is very much against Rajapaksa and assured that he will protect the mandate given to him at the January 8 Presidential election. President Sirisena also said that he feels there are many others who are qualified to be the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.Many expected Sirisena to resign as the SLFP and UPFA President following pressure from the alliance to give Rajapaksa nominations.“If I resigned, anyone Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted would have received nominations,” Sirisena said. On the Central Bank bond controversy, the President said that he had advised Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to urge the Central Bank Governor to resign.President Sirisena said that he will remain neutral ahead of the August 17 Parliament election and not openly support any political party. (Colombo Gazette)