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All you need to know about Sri Lanka's escalating political turmoil

News Agencies | Updated on: 17 November 2018, 15:37 IST

Sri Lanka has been reeling from a turbulent political crisis for almost a month, when President Maithripala Sirisena on October 26 abruptly sacked then-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and installed the now-ousted Mahinda Rajapaksa, the country's former President, as the new premier.

The power struggle has left the Sri Lankan democratic system in tatters, with massive protests being held by the United National Party (UNP), where its members and supporters of Wickremesinghe have repeatedly called President Sirisena's move as "unconstitutional".

Even Wickremesinghe voiced his views, asserting that he was legally still the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. He and his supporters have accused Sirisena of staging an "undemocratic coup".

Sirisena further suspended the country's Parliamentary proceedings until November 16. Amid rising demands by legislators to end the political crisis in the South Asian island nation, the Sri Lankan President preponed the date to reconvene the Parliament on November 14.

Defending his decision to oust Wickremesinghe, the Sri Lankan President claimed that the former's political conduct was unbecoming of civilised politics, as he grossly violated the principles of good governance. Sirisena asserted that political change was necessary, as Wickremesinghe "destroyed the concept and the noble expectations of good governance by his actions during the last few years."

Sirisena then called for a snap election to be held on January 5. Amidst the political chaos, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court stepped in and suspended Sirisena's order to dissolve the island nation's Parliament and call a snap general election. The court will hear more arguments and would deliver a verdict next month.

The Sri Lankan President remained defiant, saying that he would not re-appoint Wickremesinghe, in what was a move, considered by many, to allow Rajapaksa to buy more time to gain legislators, in order to prove his majority in the Parliament.

China, whose protege is Rajapaksa, was backrolling this entire process.

The political turmoil in Sri Lanka turned topsy-turvy, when Rajapaksa, was defeated in the Parliament during a 'No-Confidence' motion on November 15. The No-Confidence motion against Rajapaksa was passed after 122 members voted against him in the 225-member House. In an unusual turn of events, the Parliament became a virtual war-zone, when the legislators got into fistfights, hurled objects at each other and even tried to attack Speaker Karu Jayasuriya following Rajapaksa's loss in the trust vote.

The Parliament was reconvened in Colombo after the UNP lawmakers approved a motion of no-confidence in Rajapaksa's "purported" cabinet. They even passed motions declaring President Sirisena's move as illegal.

Following this major upset for Mahinda Rajapaksa, he is using his money and muscle power to obstruct functioning of the House, and also intimidating his opponents and their supporters. An atmosphere of absolute terror now prevails in the country, with the complicity of President Sirisena, who is allowing Mahinda Rajapaksa's goons a free run.

Legislators supporting Rajapaksa, hurled chairs at police officers and throw chilli powder at the leaders of opposing parties.

"They (MPs of Sirisena - Rajapaksa faction) have assaulted me by using a copy of the Constitution, and they have used chilli powder mixed with water to attack the MPs," The Guardian quoted Member of Parliament, Vijitha Herath, as saying on Friday.

With Sirisena vehemently rejecting the no-confidence vote against Rajapaksa, Speaker Jayasuriya said that Sri Lanka as of now does not have a Prime Minister or a Cabinet.

While the Parliament is expected to be reconvened on November 19, there is still no clear sign on whether the political turmoil would come to an end soon.

The political parties are now waiting for the Supreme Court's verdict next month to see if the House will be dissolved and elections will be announced or whether the Wickremesinghe-led government will continue in office.

Many countries, including India and the United States, are closely watching the developments in the island nation, and have called on the Sirisena government to act as per the Constitution and refrain from committing violence and to restore democracy.



First published: 17 November 2018, 15:37 IST