President Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka in his office in Colombo. (The New York Times photo)
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has summoned Parliament on Monday, officials said Thursday, a move which could resolve the political crisis arose after he sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and installed former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sirisena was under increasing political and diplomatic pressure to reconvene Parliament which he had suspended till November 16, apparently to allow Rajapaksa to engineer crossovers from Wickremesinghe’s side.
The President has agreed to call a parliamentary session on November 5, officials at Rajapaksa’s office said.
Prior to the crisis, Wickramasinghe’s United National Party (UNP) had the backing of 106 parliamentarians while Rajapaksa and Sirisena combine had 95 seats.
Rajapaksa has so far managed to rope in five lawmakers from Wickramasinghe’s party to bolster his strength to 101. One UNP lawmaker has offered his support to him.
It was, however, not immediately known if Rajapaksa has managed to secure 113 votes required to prove the majority.
Wickremesinghe, who has refused to accept his dismissal claiming to be the country’s legitimate premier, welcomed the development and said that democracy will prevail.
“The people’s voices have been heard. Parliament will be reconvened on the 5th of November. Democracy will prevail,” he said in a tweet.
Talking to the BBC from his official residence Temple Trees, Wickremesinghe said: “I still remain the prime minister and I have the confidence of the majority of members of this house.
“The Constitution states that the president must appoint as prime minister the person who commands the confidence of Parliament and I am the person who has that. We have asked for the summoning of Parliament so I can prove my majority in the house,” he said.
Sirisena replaced Wickremesinghe with Rajapaksa in a dramatic turn of events last Friday and suspended Parliament after the sacked premier sought an emergency session to prove his majority.
On Wednesday, Sirisena and Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuria discussed the issue.
Sirisena later indicated that he may call the session next week.
Jayasuriya’s office, however, said that seat for the prime minister in Parliament would be reserved for Rajapaksa as the parliamentary officials are bound by the government gazette issued naming as the premier.
Sirisena swore in a new Cabinet under Rajapaksa on Monday despite a warning from the parliament speaker of possible violence if lawmakers were not summoned immediately to resolve the crisis.
Wickramasinghe argues that he cannot legally be removed until he loses the support of Parliament and called for a floor test to prove his majority.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has 16 seats in the house and the People’s Liberation Front (JVP) has six legislators.
On Tuesday, angry protests rocked Sri Lanka’s capital as thousands of demonstrators gathered for a rally organised by Wickremesinghe’s party against what it said was a “coup” by President Sirisena.