Sri Lanka crisis deepening after president suspends parliament
- Maithripala Sirisena ordered suspension until November 16, a day after firing prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who insists he is still in charge
Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena on Saturday suspended parliament until November 16, a day after removing Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister and replacing him with former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa in a surprise move that signals escalating political tensions in the South Asian nation.
“The president has prorogued the parliament,” cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters.
Minutes earlier Wickremesinghe, who says he is still prime minister, urged the speaker to convene parliament to prove he retained his parliamentary majority.
“As far as the prime ministership is concerned, the person who has the majority support in parliament has to be the prime minister, and I have that majority of support,” Wickremesinghe told a press conference in Colombo, flanked by all his coalition partners except Sirisena’s party.
“When a motion of no confidence was moved [in the past], we defeated it showing that the house has the confidence in me,” he said. “It is not necessary for us to create a crisis. It is not necessary for the people of the country to suffer.”
The suspension means Wickremesinghe will not immediately have an opportunity to prove his majority, amid speculation some of his party members would cross over to back Rajapaksa for perks and ministerial portfolios.
Media and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera on Friday condemned Rajapaksa’s appointment as “an anti-democratic coup” and violation of the constitution.
A delegation from the European Union said on Saturday it was closely following the events.
“We urge all parties to fully act in accordance with Sri Lanka’s constitution, to refrain from violence, to follow due institutional process, to respect the independence of institutions, and freedom of media.”
Sirisena administered the oath of office to Rajapaksa on Friday after sacking Wickremesinghe, who was away touring the south of the country. Under Sri Lanka’s constitution, the prime minister heads parliament and the president has executive powers.
The political rift, which came amid weakening economic growth in Sri Lanka, follows months of infighting in the ruling coalition.
Relations between Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) and Sirisensa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) have been strained recently after Sirisensa accused Wickremesinghe of not adequately investigating an assassination plot against the president. The UPFA threatened to quit the ruling coalition.
Sirisena accused India’s intelligence services of involvement in the plot, a claim New Delhi and Colombo have both denied.
There was no immediate reaction from India which has long seen Sri Lanka as part of its area of influence. India’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment on the change of leadership in Sri Lanka.
Rajapaksa ruled Sri Lanka as president for nine years beginning in 2005, accumulating immense power and popularity among the country’s majority ethnic Sinhalese after overseeing the military’s brutal defeat of ethnic Tamil rebels in May 2009, ending the 25-year civil war. Some supporters hailed him as a king and saviour.
India has been concerned about Rajapaksa wooing China – he ushered in billions of dollars of investment from Beijing to help rebuild the country after the civil war.
That investment sunk the island in debt and forced it to hand over control of a strategic port to China, drawing criticism from India and the United States.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse