Sri Lanka rivals woo defectors in bid to end impasse

Saul Bowman
November 5, 2018

The political turmoil began after Sirisena sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and installed former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place in a dramatic turn of events last week.

Seven members from Wickremesinghe's United National Front have defected to Rajapaksa's government. He was made a deputy minister. Wickremesinghe too had demanded the convening of Parliament, saying he still enjoys majority.

In a statement, the TNA Saturday said Rajapaksa's appointment was a violation of the Constitution's 19th amendment.

Mahindananda Aluthgamage, a lawmaker from Rajapaksa's party, denied the allegations.

Since then, Wickremesinghe has not left the prime minister's official residence, insisting he is still the legitimate prime minister and controls a majority in parliament.

So far Rajapaksa has 100 MPs on his side while sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has 103 MPs in the 225-member assembly.

Huge amounts are reportedly being offered to defectors.

On the other hand, China, which invested billions of dollars during Rajapaksa's presidency, has called for non-interference and said Sri Lanka could tackle its own problems. He highlighted the Sri Lankan government's responsibility to ensure peace, security and respect for the rule of law.

It expressed alarm at ministerial positions being given for changing political loyalties.

The president suspended parliament for 20 days until November 16 after sacking Wickremesinghe, in a move to put off a parliamentary vote that would have gone against his choice for prime minister. "Malicious rumours are being spread to discredit the Government and I think this will put a stop to all that", the Government spokesman said adding that, "Despite cries of foul play, the powers vested in the President in proroguing Parliament and appointing a PM is very clear".

Rajapakse loyalists are arranging a mass rally on Monday near the parliament complex to support to what the local media has dubbed a "constitutional coup".

The United Nations and many Western countries have urged Sirisena to summon the House immediately.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena to revert to parliamentary procedures.

The European Union is anxious the return of Rajapaksa as prime minister, could derail progress made toward national reconciliation following a war with ethnic minority Tamil separatists, the report said.

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