Pressure mounts for SL parliament recall

Pressure mounts for SL parliament recall
(L) Sri Lanka’s sacked PM Ranil Wickremesinghe, arrives for a media briefing. (R) Newly appointed PM Mahinda Rajapaksa, prays during the duties assuming ceremony in Colombo, Monday. (AP)
Colombo, Oct 29 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 10/29/2018 12:24:16 PM IST

Ousted Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday demanded parliament be allowed to choose between the two rivals to run the country’s government amid warnings that the constitutional crisis could become a “bloodbath”, AFP reported. With tensions already heightened by the killing of one activist, the United States added to international pressure on President Maithripala Sirisena to annul his suspension of parliament to end the power struggle.

Wickremesinghe remained defiant at the prime minister’s residence which he has not left since being sacked on Friday, when Sirisena called in former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse to take over the government. Rajapakse started his rival duties in a low key ceremony and his aides said he could name some ministers later Monday. “At the moment there is a vacuum, no one is in full charge of the country,” Wickremesinghe told reporters at the residence, which is surrounded by over 1,000 of his supporters and chanting Buddhist monks.

He insisted that the legislature had judicial powers to resolve the crisis and said his dismissal was illegal. “That is why we want parliament summoned immediately to decide who enjoys the majority. I am still the prime minister who commands that majority.” Sirisena followed up the sacking of his former ally by swearing in Rajapakse and suspending parliament, where Wickremesinghe’s party is the biggest party, until November 16.

- ‘Bloodbath’ -

Parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya -- who refused to endorse Sirisena’s shock dismissal of Wickremesinghe on Sunday -- also added to the warnings. “We should settle this through parliament, but if we take it out to the streets, there will be a huge bloodbath,” said Jayasuriya, who is a member of Wickremesinghe’s party but whose post is officially neutral.

The speaker said he had urged Sirisena to let Wickremesinghe prove he has a majority on the floor of the House. He did not say if the president had responded. However, he said there were disturbing reports of people loyal to Rajapakse storming state media institutions, intimidating editorial staff and also disrupting legitimate work of government ministries.

“Internationally, our image has suffered hugely as a result of this crisis,” Jayasuriya said after meeting with the country’s influential Buddhist clergy in the central pilgrim town of Kandy. The power struggle has caused international concern and the United States urged Sirisena to “immediately reconvene parliament” to let lawmakers decide between Wickremesinghe and Rajapakse. India has made a similar call.

- National peril -

Rajapakse, who is seen as being closer to China than Wickremesinghe, said he was given the job because his predecessor’s party “engaged in a quest to sell off valuable state assets and enterprises to foreign companies”. “I was aware that at this moment of national peril, the people expected our leadership and protection,” Rajapakse said Monday in his first statement since his controversial elevation. “Hence, I accepted the invitation.”

Rajapakse leaned heavily on China for political support and took loans to build infrastructure which the new government described as white elephants. His reliance on Beijing angered India, who Rajapakse blamed for his defeat in the last presidential polls. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing was closely following the situation but believed Sri Lanka had “enough wisdom” to resolve it internally.

Petroleum Minister Arjuna Ranatunga was arrested Monday a day after a man was killed when bodyguards opened fire to rescue him from a group loyal to Sirisena. Ranatunga, captain of Sri Lanka’s 1996 cricket World Cup winning side and Wickremesinghe ally, was taken in after trade unions accused him of ordering the shooting. The police officer who opened fire was arrested Sunday. 

Rajapaksa takes over as PM

Former Sri Lanka strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday assumed charge as Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister after the surprise sacking of his predecessor Ranil Wickremesinghe by President Maithripala Sirisena, which took Sri Lanka into an unprecedented political crisis.

Mr Rajapaksa assumed duties in the prime minister’s secretariat which was not used by Mr Wickremesinghe, officials from his Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP) said.

Mr Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapaksa as the new prime minister in a surprise move that is being debated as a constitutional coup. He also suspended parliament till November 16 after Wickremesinghe sought an emergency session to prove his majority.

On Sunday, Sri Lankan Parliament’s Speaker Karu Jayasuriya recognised Mr Wickremesinghe as the prime minister.

At least a few Cabinet members will to be sworn in later, the party officials said.

“There will be ministers of finance, law and order, foreign and home affairs who would be sworn in,” said a spokesman of the SLPP.

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