Sri Lanka: As Rajapaksa takes over as PM, US urges parties to abide by Constitution, refrain from violence

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New Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. (File)

In its first reaction to the turmoil in Sri Lanka after former President Mahinda Rajapakse made a stunning return to power as the country’s new Prime Minister, the United States urged political parties to abide by the Constitution and refrain from violence.

“We call on all parties to act in accordance with SL’s Constitution, refrain from violence, and follow due process,” the US State Department said in a tweet. “We expect gov of SL to uphold its Geneva commitments to human rights, reform, accountability, justice, and reconciliation,” the South and Central Asia Bureau of the State Department said.

President Maithripala Sirisena fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in dramatic developments on Friday, even as Wickremesinghe called the move “illegal and unconstitutional”, saying he was still the PM and would prove his majority. The move came after differences cropped up between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, especially on policy issues related to economy and security. Members of Wickremesinghe’s government called Friday’s move a coup.

Read | Sudden regime change in Sri Lanka: Mahinda Rajapakse is back, now as PM

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“The appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister is unconstitutional and illegal. This is an undemocratic coup,” Mangala Samaraweera, finance minister of the outgoing government, said on Facebook.

Reacting to Rajapaksa’s appointment, the sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that he had no intention of leaving his post. “I have the majority. I will function as the prime minister. I will remain as the prime minister,” he said.

Many constitutional lawyers, political activists and pundits debated on social media and Sri Lankan TV into early Saturday whether Wickremesinghe’s ouster was legitimate. The executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka called for a vote to resolve the crisis.

“What the president now should do immediately is to summon Parliament and have a vote. That’s the democratic way to resolve this crisis,” he said.

Rajapaksa won a majority needed in the 225-member Parliament. He also ruled Sri Lanka as president for nine years beginning in 2005, accumulating immense power and popularity among the country’s majority ethnic Sinhalese after overseeing the military’s brutal defeat of ethnic Tamil rebels in 2009, ending a 25-year civil war. Some supporters hailed him as a king and saviour. But he also was criticized for failing to allow an investigation into allegations of war crimes by the military.

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