Sri Lankan pres­i­dent sus­pends par­lia­ment af­ter fir­ing prime min­is­ter

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

COLOMBO, (Reuters) - A con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis in Sri Lanka deep­ened yes­ter­day as Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended par­lia­ment a day af­ter sack­ing the prime min­is­ter and re­plac­ing him with a for­mer leader seen as be­ing close to China.

Sirisena fired Ranil Wick­remesinghe and swore in for­mer Pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japaksa as his re­place­ment late on Fri­day in a move cheered by Ra­japaksa sup­port­ers but de­scribed as a coup by op­po­nents.

The pres­i­dent’s or­der to sus­pend par­lia­ment un­til Nov. 16 was widely seen as an at­tempt to stop Wick­remesinghe from try­ing to prove he main­tains a par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity even af­ter Sirisena pulled his party out of the rul­ing coali­tion.

Wick­remesinghe says he is still prime min­is­ter, and shortly be­fore the sus­pen­sion was an­nounced he had urged the speaker to con­vene a ses­sion to show that he had a ma­jor­ity.

“I have the ma­jor­ity in the par­lia­ment, con­vene the par­lia­ment to re­solve this,” Wick­remesinghe told a news con­fer­ence in Colombo on Satur­day, flanked by all his coali­tion part­ners ex­cept Sirisena’s party.

Cheng Xueyuan, China’s en­voy to Sri Lanka, sent Ra­japaksa a cus­tom­ary con­grat­u­la­tory mes­sage but also paid a cour­tesy call on Wick­remesinghe and said China would not in­ter­fere in the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, sources close to the em­bassy told Reuters.

Sirisena or­dered the po­lice chief to with­draw the se­cu­rity de­tail pro­vided to Wick­remesinghe as prime min­is­ter.

The pres­i­dent also ap­pointed an act­ing head for the govern­ment’s in­for­ma­tion depart­ment, which in a state­ment said that the cabi­net had been dis­solved with the ap­point­ment of a new prime min­is­ter.

An op­po­si­tion leg­is­la­tor told lo­cal me­dia that Sirisena will ad­dress the na­tion on Sun­day and ap­point a new cabi­net on Mon­day.

At least one law­maker from Wick­remesinghe’s party said he would now back Ra­japaksa and told re­porters at least an­other 20 leg­is­la­tors also planned to change sides.

Un­der the con­sti­tu­tion, the pres­i­dent can ap­point a new prime min­is­ter if the cur­rent premier loses con­trol of par­lia­ment.

An op­po­si­tion leader and Ra­japaksa ally G.L. Peiris said, how­ever, that par­lia­ment’s sus­pen­sion was aimed at fa­cil­i­tat­ing the estab­lish­ment of a new govern­ment.

“The par­lia­ment has to al­lo­cate new seats ... we can’t ar­range all these in one or two days. We need time,” he said.

An op­po­si­tion leg­is­la­tor told lo­cal me­dia that Sirisena would ad­dress the na­tion on Sun­day and ap­point a new cabi­net on Mon­day.

The shut­down means the coun­try’s na­tional bud­get will not be re­leased as sched­uled on Nov. 5 and Peiris said the new ad­min­is­tra­tion would work with a tem­po­rary bud­get for now.

Fire­crack­ers were set off in cel­e­bra­tion in Colombo late on Fri­day as Sirisena ad­min­is­tered the oath of of­fice to Ra­japaksa, while Wick­remesinghe was off tour­ing the coun­try’s south.

Un­der Sri Lanka’s con­sti­tu­tion, the pres­i­dent has ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers while the prime min­is­ter heads par­lia­ment.

Hun­dreds of an­gry Wick­remesinghe sup­port­ers turned to his of­fi­cial res­i­dence to ex­press their sol­i­dar­ity to their leader, a four­time prime min­is­ter.

“Sirisena is a traitor. He let our leader down de­spite us bring­ing him to power,” one of the sup­port­ers told Reuters.

Me­dia and Fi­nance Min­is­ter Man­gala Sa­ma­raweera called Wick­remesinghe’s ouster “an anti-demo­cratic coup”.

Wick­remesinghe’s party has called on its sup­port­ers to hold a protest in the cap­i­tal Colombo on Mon­day.

Maithri­pala Sirisena

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