Sri Lanka cri­sis es­ca­lates as pres­i­dent calls snap elec­tion

Pres­i­dent and ousted PM bat­tling for power

Kuwait Times - - International -

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka plunged deeper into cri­sis yes­ter­day 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 de­fense 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.

Power strug­gle

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 yes­ter­day 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.

US ‘deeply con­cerned’

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. “As a com­mit­ted part­ner of Sri Lanka, we be­lieve demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and pro­cesses need to be re­spected to en­sure sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity,” it said. Aus­tralia’s for­eign min­is­ter ex­pressed con­cern and said Sirisena’s ac­tion “un­der­mines Sri Lanka’s long demo­cratic tra­di­tion and poses a risk to its sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity”.

Just be­fore sack­ing the par­lia­ment, Sirisena also in­ducted more min­is­ters into his cab­i­net. The move was seen as giv­ing them ac­cess to state re­sources in the run up to the Jan­uary vote. The left­ist Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Front (JVP), which re­gards the sack­ing of Wick­remesinghe as un­con­sti­tu­tional, ac­cused Sirisena of try­ing to con­sol­i­date his power grab. “Dis­solv­ing par­lia­ment at this time is il­le­gal and goes against the con­sti­tu­tion,” JVP gen­eral sec­re­tary Til­vin Silva told re­porters. Sirisena sus­pended par­lia­ment to give him­self more time to en­gi­neer de­fec­tions but failed, ac­cord­ing to the op­po­si­tion.

Sev­eral leg­is­la­tors have said they were of­fered mil­lions of dol­lars to switch al­le­giance and at least eight had al­ready jumped to the pres­i­dent’s side. Un­der in­ter­na­tional pres­sure Sirisena had agreed three times to lift the sus­pen­sion but changed his mind each time. Wick­remesinghe had late Thurs­day thanked his sup­port­ers in a Face­book video for not let­ting Sri Lanka be “plunged into the dark­ness of dic­ta­tor­ship”. It was not im­me­di­ately clear if he would va­cate the of­fi­cial Tem­ple Trees res­i­dence fol­low­ing the dis­so­lu­tion of par­lia­ment. The power strug­gle on the is­land of 21 mil­lion peo­ple has par­a­lyzed much of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, ac­cord­ing to leg­is­la­tors on both sides of the dis­pute. —AFP

COLOMBO: A gen­eral view of the Sri Lanka par­lia­ment build­ing in Colombo yes­ter­day. Sri Lanka will hold a snap elec­tion in Jan­uary, the coun­try’s pres­i­dent an­nounced hours af­ter dis­solv­ing par­lia­ment when it be­came clear his prime min­is­ter nom­i­nee did not have a ma­jor­ity. —AFP

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