Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan court blocks Mahinda Rajapakse from acting as prime minister

  • Court order further undermines Rajapakse’s ability to govern
PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 December, 2018, 7:58pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 December, 2018, 11:19pm

A Sri Lankan court on Monday issued an order preventing Mahinda Rajapakse from as acting as prime minister and holding cabinet meetings, the latest twist to a political drama gripping the South Asian country.

The island has been in crisis since President Maithripala Sirisena replaced Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with Rajapakse in October, and then issued an order dissolving parliament and called for a general election.

Sirisena’s decisions have prompted legal challenges and on Friday, the Appeal Court began a hearing a petition signed by 122 legislators that challenges Rajapakse’s authority to hold office after he lost two no-confidence votes last month.

Rajapakse had continued to function as prime minister, with Sirisena dismissing the no-confidence votes, saying proper procedures were not followed.

“An interim order is granted against the first respondent functioning as the prime minister … also issuing interim order against 30 other respondents functioning in their offices,” judge Preethipadhman Surasena said.

Rajapakse and his cabinet ministers have been asked to appear in court on December 12, the judge added.

Rajapakse said later that he did not agree with the court’s decision and would appeal on Tuesday, but cancelled a meeting with bankers in compliance with the ruling.

“We do not agree with the interim order of the Court of Appeal,” he said in a statement, referring to himself and his party. “We are preparing papers to go to the Supreme Court first thing in the morning tomorrow.”

He urged supporters to remain calm and join his struggle to press for a general election nearly two years ahead of schedule.

Sri Lanka talks fail to end crippling political power struggle

The court’s decision will put a further brake on Rajapakse’s disputed government after parliament voted last week to halt payment of ministers’ salaries and travel expenses.

The impasse has pushed the island’s currency to record lows, caused turmoil on its stock and bond markets and raised fears it may not be able to service debts to finance reconstruction following a 26-year civil war that ended in 2009.

But Surasena said the legitimacy of the Rajapakse government had to be determined first.

“The damage that will be posed by temporarily restraining a lawful cabinet of ministers from functioning would be in all probabilities outweighed by the damage that would be caused by allowing a set of persons who are not entitled in law to function as the prime minister or the cabinet of ministers or any other minister of the government.”

The Supreme Court is separately hearing a petition on whether Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament was constitutional and is expected to give its verdict on Friday.

With additional reporting by agencies