Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena set elec­tions for Jan­uary 5, al­most two years ahead of sched­ule

Times of Oman - - WORLD -

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka plunged deeper into cri­sis on Satur­day af­ter Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena sacked par­lia­ment and called a snap elec­tion, leav­ing the coun­try fac­ing a fur­ther two months of dam­ag­ing po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis.

Po­lit­i­cal par­ties rep­re­sent­ing a ma­jor­ity of mem­bers in the 225-mem­ber par­lia­ment closed ranks to de­nounce the Fri­day night dis­so­lu­tion as il­le­gal and un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Shortly be­fore sack­ing the leg­is­la­ture, Sirisena took over the po­lice de­part­ment by at­tach­ing it to his de­fence min­istry. He also took con­trol of the state printer, a cru­cial in­sti­tu­tion that pub­lishes de­crees and procla­ma­tions.

He had al­ready taken con­trol of all state me­dia out­lets soon af­ter dis­miss­ing Prime Min­is­ter Ranil Wick­remesinghe on Oc­to­ber 26.

Sirisena set elec­tions for Jan­uary 5, al­most two years ahead of sched­ule, af­ter it be­came clear that his des­ig­nated prime min­is­ter -- for­mer pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japakse -- could not prove his ma­jor­ity when the assem­bly was set to re­con­vene on Wed­nes­day.

Ra­japakse, 72, was prime min­is­ter for two weeks with­out ever step­ping into par­lia­ment. He would now con­tinue as a care­taker pre­mier un­til a new par­lia­ment meets on Jan­uary 17.

A leader of Ra­japakse’s party, Susil Pre­ma­jayan­tha, said Sirisena sacked the leg­is­la­ture to end the power strug­gle and al­low peo­ple to elect a new par­lia­ment.

“Now we have a care­taker gov­ern­ment with lim­ited func­tions,” Pre­ma­jayan­tha said. “We will con­duct a free and fair elec­tion.”

He ac­cused sacked pre­mier Wick­remesinghe of caus­ing in­sta­bil­ity by re­fus­ing to va­cate his of­fi­cial res­i­dence, a charge rejected by him as well as sev­eral other par­ties who to­gether com­mand a ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment.

Ra­japakse and ousted Wick­remesinghe have been bat­tling for power for two weeks as in­ter­na­tional con­cern grew over the mount­ing tur­moil in the strate­gi­cally im­por­tant is­land na­tion.

Sirisena signed a de­cree dis­miss­ing the leg­is­la­ture in a bid to head off any re­volt against his ac­tions which in­cluded sus­pend­ing par­lia­ment for nearly three weeks.

Wick­remesinghe’s fi­nance min­is­ter Man­gala Sa­ma­raweera de­scribed the par­lia­ment sack­ing as a des­per­ate move by Sirisena.

“A des­per­ate pres­i­dent with­out a ma­jor­ity, now re­sorts to more des­per­ate mea­sures by il­le­gally dis­solv­ing par­lia­ment,” Sa­ma­raweera said. “All those who cher­ish democ­racy, de­cency and rule of law, must now rally around and de­feat the emerg­ing tyranny.”

Ra­japakse was yet ad­dress the na­tion af­ter his dis­puted el­e­va­tion, but early Satur­day at­tempted to jus­tify the dis­so­lu­tion.

“... A gen­eral elec­tion will truly es­tab­lish the will of the peo­ple and make way for a sta­ble coun­try,” he said on Twit­ter.

There was no im­me­di­ate com­ment from Wick­remesinghe, but his United Na­tional Party (UNP) said it will chal­lenge Sirisena’s sack­ing while sev­eral civil so­ci­ety groups were also plan­ning to pe­ti­tion the Supreme Court against what they see as an il­le­gal ac­tion of the ex­ec­u­tive.

The United States, the United Na­tions and the Eu­ro­pean Union have be­come in­creas­ingly con­cerned, and Wash­ing­ton’s crit­i­cism of Sirisema’s move was swift.

“The US is deeply con­cerned by news the Sri Lanka par­lia­ment will be dis­solved, fur­ther deep­en­ing the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis,” the US State De­part­ment said in a state­ment.

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