Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena. (File)
Sri Lanka’s escalating political crisis seems to have no quick answers as the camp of new Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa continues negotiations to garner support of more MPs after Friday’s swearing-in ceremony. On Tuesday, hundreds of people supporting ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took to the streets in Colombo demanding that Parliament must convene immediately.
The public protest, the first such organised public gathering after Wickremesinghe was ousted on Friday by President Maithripala Sirisena, followed a letter signed by 126 MPs, who constitute a majority of the 225-member Parliament, requesting Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to reconvene Parliament immediately, a demand Jayasuriya himself raised before President Sirisena two days ago.
While ousted PM Wickremesinghe was not available to comment on the developing political crisis, Harsh de Silva, state minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs and a member of Wickremesinghe’s United National Party, said the entire security of the Prime Minister’s official residence, Temple Trees, has been withdrawn by the government. Despite losing his position and the office, Wickremesinghe continues to occupy the official residence, claiming the support of a majority of MPs.
“This is scary. There are hardly 10 policemen to guard him now. When all security guards were shifted out of Temple Trees, the administration also suspended the services of cooks, drivers and cleaning staff at the PM’s official residence. Temple Trees is now protected by hundreds of people who fight for democracy, they have taken over the kitchen and prepare food. President Sirisena has to convene Parliament and respect the democratic practices of this country to avoid further chaos,” said de Silva, who is one of the loudest voices in the Wickremesinghe camp.
Sirisena’s move to prorogue Parliament till November 16 was a strategy to buy more time to get the numbers in place.
Talking to The Indian Express, the office of President Sirisena refuted reports that the country was heading towards chaos. “The country is completely stable,” the office said. When asked about allegations of a “political coup” in the appointment of Rajapaksa as PM, it said: “It is just that Sri Lankan politics, internally, is taking a different political manoeuvring to stabilise the country. When Australia ousted the prime minister (Malcolm Turnbull), it is a mere political development. When it happens in a third world country, it is being called a ‘coup’, ‘political chaos’, all that. Diplomats and embassies who reached out have suggested the idea to convene Parliament. But, let us make it clear that there is no doubt in the President’s power to prorogue Parliament, it is fully within his powers… Parliament will be convened on November 16.”
When asked about Sirisena’s “unconstitutional and illegal move”, Namal Rajapaksa, son of the new Prime Minister, said the outcry by the international community and civil society groups is selective as “none of them were seen around” when Wickremesinghe violated the Constitution multiple times, including when he himself became PM in a similar way.
“Against the Constitution, they delayed local body polls for over two years fearing defeat. Fearing people’s anger against economic hardships they brought in the last three-and-a-half years, the provincial polls are also delayed,” he said, asking why civil society groups or international agencies turned a blind eye to these crucial constitutional issues.