Sri Lanka crisis: president’s party makes u-turn on parliament suspension

Published November 2, 2018
Sri Lankan Police Special Task Force (STF) soldiers leave the Prime Minister's official residence in Colombo on November 1. — AFP
Sri Lankan Police Special Task Force (STF) soldiers leave the Prime Minister's official residence in Colombo on November 1. — AFP

COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan president’s party on Thursday reignited a constitutional crisis over which of two rival prime ministers heads the government by insisting that parliament will remain suspended.

A spokesman for President Maithripala Sirisena’s party announced the new u-turn just hours after Sirisena told diplomats in Colombo that parliament would be allowed to meet on Monday.

Sirisena set off the crisis last Friday by sacking Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister and bringing in former strongman leader Mahinda Rajapakse.

Wickremesinghe refused to accept the dismissal and the president suspended parliament.

The announcement of a Monday meeting had boosted hopes that lawmakers would be allowed to vote on which of the arch-foes they support. Rajapakse had also told a meeting of academics in Colombo that the legislature will be recalled on Monday.

But at the end of the day, Sirisena party spokesman Mahindananda Aluthgamage told reporters parliament will only reconvene on Nov 16 in line with the early suspension order. “On Monday we will have a mass rally near parliament.”

In parallel, the Rajapakse administration announced measures to reduce personal and corporate taxes and cut the price of fuel and several commodities. Observers said this could be an attempt to win over the population.

The renewed suspension still came as a new bombshell in the dispute which will mark one week with much of the government paralysed.

Parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya warned this week that delaying the reopening of parliament could lead to a “bloodbath” on the streets. One activist has already been killed in fallout from the tensions.

Sirisena agreed to lift the suspension in a meeting late Wednesday with Jayasuriya, according to officials. But the speaker’s staff said no written notification of the deal was ever sent.

The crisis has put the country on edge, threatens to polarise voters and also caused international concern.

Colombo-based Western diplomats have made it clear that they were unwilling to recognise the new administration, diplomatic sources said.

The United States, India and Sri Lanka’s key financial backer China have called on the rivals to peacefully resolve the crisis.

Even if the crisis is patched up, observers are worried about how the country will go into a presidential election scheduled for next year and legislative polls in 2020.

“The struggle for power jeopardises progress on reforms, ethnic reconciliation, and prospects for peaceful and fair elections in 2019,” said the International Crisis Group think tank.

It has called on the United States, European Union and other key nations to put more pressure on Sirisena to end the battle.

“They should back these calls by making clear that Rajapakse’s appointment, if it stands, threatens the future of security and economic cooperation.”

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2018

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