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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka talks fail to end crippling political power struggle

  • Deposed premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and newly appointed Mahinda Rajapakse met the country’s president for negotiations on Sunday
PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 1:52am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 1:52am

Crucial talks to resolve a power struggle in Sri Lanka failed to break the political deadlock, officials said Sunday, as the three key players met for the first time since crisis erupted last month.

The Indian Ocean nation has been paralysed since October 26 when President Maithripala Sirisena controversially sacked the prime minister and replaced him with a former rival, Mahinda Rajapakse.

Deposed premier Ranil Wickremesinghe insists he is still prime minister, and parliament voted twice last week to reject Rajapakse as leader.

In a bid to resolve the crisis, Wickremesinghe and Rajapakse both went to meet the president at his office in the capital Sunday for what were widely regarded as crucial negotiations.

All three men were at the Presidential Secretariat building for nearly two hours with their aides and party seniors – but failed to end the political deadlock.

Wickremesinghe has demanded his government be restored, challenging Rajapakse to demonstrate a majority in the 225-member assembly.

But brawling erupted in parliament Friday with Rajapakse loyalists smashing furniture, throwing chilli powder and launching projectiles at rivals in a bid to disrupt a no-confidence motion against him.

Rajapakse’s party has admitted that they lacked a simple majority in the legislature. Their rivals accuse them of delaying a vote because they do not yet have the required number of MPs.

“He (Rajapakse) must submit himself to a floor test,” said Lakshman Kiriella, an MP from Wickremesinghe’s United National Party.

“Otherwise he cannot run a government.”

Kiriella said the United National Party and their allies have twice demonstrated that they had 122 legislators – nine more than the 113 required to demonstrate an absolute majority.

Rajapakse’s legislator son Namal confirmed the talks had failed and said they would press for the snap election which was called by Sirisena on November 9 – though later suspended by the Supreme Court until it determines the legality of an early vote.

“We reiterate our call for a general election so that people can decide who should be their government,” Namal Rajapakse said on Twitter.

Sirisena said the parties agreed on Sunday to ensure the peaceful conduct of parliament when it meets again on Monday afternoon.

According to his office, the president called Sunday’s meeting “in order to end the current political unrest and conflict situation and to allow the normal functioning of the parliament”.

Wickremesinghe has said Sri Lanka needs “stability” and that he is ready to work with Sirisena, despite the personality clash that triggered the constitutional crisis.

After sacking Wickremesinghe on October 26, Sirisena initially suspended parliament and dissolved it on November 9.

The legislature only reconvened on November 14 after the Supreme Court overruled his action and demanded a full hearing.

For 19 days, Sri Lanka had two claimants to the prime minister’s post – but on Thursday parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya held that he would recognise neither as premier, leaving the country suspended in constitutional crisis.

Officially, Sri Lanka no longer has a government.

Legislators say that with the administration at a standstill, key sectors such as tourism are taking a serious battering.

Both sides have also warned that a prolonged power vacuum could lead to unrest.