Lankan president dissolves parliament, calls polls on Jan 5

Larry Hoffman
November 11, 2018

Sri Lanka's political crisis has dramatically escalated, with the president calling snap elections and dissolving parliament, two weeks after sacking the prime minister.

Sri Lanka's largest party announced Saturday a legal challenge to President Maithripala Sirisena's sacking of parliament, a move that has plunged the Indian Ocean island nation into fresh turmoil and alarmed the global community.

Sirisena signed an official notification dismissing the 225-member assembly well ahead of its August 2020 term expiry, state television reported.

Last month, President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister and appointed controversial former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which triggered protests and violence leaving one person dead.

The 72-year-old strongman, who ruled Lanka for a decade from 2005, was unexpectedly defeated by his deputy, Sirisena, in the presidential election held in January 2015 with the support from Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP). His request for a floor test to prove his majority in the House has been turned down.

President Sirisena suspended parliament immediately after his October 26 decision to sack Wickremesinghe, a move that was being seen as to allow Mahinda Rajapaksa to muster the 113 seats required for majority.

Shortly before sacking the legislature, Sirisena took over the police department by attaching it to his defence ministry.

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.

He has refused to vacate his official residence and demanded that Parliament - which had been suspended for nearly three weeks - be summoned immediately to prove he had support among its members.

Sirisena was also critical of investigations into military personnel accused of human rights violations during Sri Lanka's long civil war against a Tamil separatist group, which ended in 2009. Faced with pressure from the United Nations, the U.S. and the EU, Sirisena twice promised to lift the suspension of parliament, but then changed his mind.

"As a committed partner of Sri Lanka, we believe democratic institutions and processes need to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity", the statement said.

"The speaker was not planning to act according to the constitution and standing orders of parliament", he said.

The leftist People's Liberation Front (JVP), which regards the sacking of Wickremesinghe as unconstitutional, accused Sirisena of trying to consolidate his power grab.

Former Speaker V.J.M. Lokubandara when contacted by the Sunday Observer said that once Parliament is dissolved, there was nothing else to do than go for elections.

The EU said on Friday, before the dissolution, that the crisis had scarred the Indian Ocean island's global reputation.

"Any further delay could damage Sri Lanka's worldwide reputation and deter investors", the statement said.

Wickremesinghe had late Thursday thanked his supporters in a Facebook video for not letting Sri Lanka be "plunged into the darkness of dictatorship".

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