Maithripala Sirisena till November 16 as political crisis deepens in Lanka

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena gestures as he speaks during a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool - LR1ED3N11J16D

Vastavam web: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Saturday suspended parliament till November 16 after sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe sought an emergency session to prove his majority, deepening the political crisis in the island nation. Sirisena’s move is seen as an effort to allow former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa to buy more time to seek majority in parliament.

Parliamentary officials said the president prorogued the house till November 16. The parliament was earlier due to meet on November 5 to unveil the 2019 annual budget. Rajapaksa and Sirisena combine has only 95 seats and is short of a simple majority in the 225-member house. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) has 106 seats on its own with just seven short of the majority. Wickremesinghe has been asserting that the swearing in of Rajapaksa in his place is “illegal and unconstitutional”.

Addressing the media along with his constituent party leaders, the UNP leader said, This is a created crisis, there is no need for this crisis. The people must not suffer because of this at a difficult time for them.” He said the crisis could be resolved with no difficulty if the parliament was convened. I can prove majority on the floor of the House,” Wickremesinghe said. Sirisena formalised the sacking of his former ally by issuing two extraordinary gazette notices.

The prime minister’s secretary has been removed according to the powers vested with the president as the appointing authority. Responding to Sirisena in writing, Wickremesinghe said he is still the “constitutionally appointed Prime Minister” of Sri Lanka. “I write to inform you that I am the constitutionally appointed Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and continue in that office and that I command the confidence of Parliament as contemplated in article 42(4) of the constitution, he said in letter. Speaker Jayasuriya would now have to decide if he recognised Rajapaksa or Wickremesinghe as the prime minister.

Prof GL Peiris of the JO frontliner said the unity government of Sirisena and Wickremesinghe ceased to exist the moment Sirisena’s party, United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), announced that it had withdrawn from it. “So there is no cabinet from that moment. When the unity government arrangement ended the cabinet needs to be pruned under 30 members,” he said. He said when the cabinet stands dissolved the prime minister will have to be either removed or resign himself.

Peiris said parliament has been suspended to allow time for Rajapaksa as the new prime minster to present a vote of account in parliament instead of the 2019 budget scheduled for November 5. Two other constituent party leaders from minority Tamil and Muslim parties, Mano Ganesan, Palani Digambaram and Rishath Bathiyutheen also said they would be firmly in support of Wickremesinghe and called Sirisena’s move to sack Wickremesinghe as illegal and unconstitutional.

Sirisena’s sacking of Wickremesinghe was the culmination of an year of bitter relations between them on several policy matters. The president has been critical of the prime Minister and his policies, especially on economy and security. In April, Wickremesinghe successfully defeated a no trust motion in parliament engineered by Sirisena with backing from Rajapaksa. The UNP, however, suffered one defection after Rajapaksa was sworn in with Ananda Aluthgamage meeting the former president and extending him support.

The unity government was formed in 2015 when Sirisena was elected President with Wickremesinghe’s support, ending a nearly decade-long rule by Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa’s return to power ends a more than three-year-old coalition government that was formed by Sirisena and Wickremesinghe on a promise to combat corruption and financial irregularities. The unity government was thrown into a crisis after Rajapaksa’s new party pulled off a stunning victory in local elections in February seen as a referendum on the ruling alliance. Sri Lanka nearly faced economic sanctions from the West over Rajapakse’s brutal military crackdown on the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).