Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has pushed the island nation into a political maelstrom by dissolving the parliament on Friday after failure to install his man as the new prime minister.
While sacking former ally and prime minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe, and naming political strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new prime minister two weeks ago, Sirisena failed to realise that he does not have the numbers to edge out Wickramasinghe government in a no trust vote in Parliament that was reconvened on Monday.
Sirisena has now ordered new elections early in January hoping he can bring back to power Rajapaksa who is expected to support his re-election as president in 2020.
Opposition has cried foul with Mangala Samaraweera, the finance minister in Wickremesinghe’s cabinet, set to move the Supreme Court on Monday as, according to him, the president violated constitutional norms.
Ajith Perera, a member of parliament representing Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP), called Sirisena’s dissolution of Parliament illegal and unconstitutional.
The US, UK, Canada and Australia separately expressed concern over the parliament dissolution. They wanted the president to uphold the constitution and respect democratic institutions and processes.
Wickramasinghe, a veteran, has refused to leave his official residence arguing that the president has no right to sack his duly elected government. Replacing him with Rajapaksa may be politically convenient for Sirisena but legally wrong, according to Wickramasinghe.
He had expressed confidence in defeating Sirisena’s no trust vote as he claimed the numbers to prove majority in the House.
Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party won over eight UNP members to their camp ahead of the no trust vote but that number was insufficient to bring down Wickramasinghe’s government.
The president was left with no option but to fire all lawmakers and call fresh elections to stop UNP rule to continue.
Sirisena fired Wickramasinghe over reports of an alleged plot by a UNP minister to assassinate him with the help of India’s foreign intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing.
The president himself dismissed India’s role in the alleged plot but his suspicion over the pro-India Wickramasinghe government prompted him to sack the cabinet on Oct 26.
Sirisena then wanted to play the pro-China card by bringing Rajapaksa back to power.
During Rajapaksa’s presidency between 2005 and 2015, Sri Lanka warmed up to China and signed a deal to allow Colombo port to become part of China’s New Silk Road project to transport goods to the West.
Pro-India and pro-West Wickramasinghe’s government was apprehensive of China’s plan to expand a portion of the Colombo port amid reports that China was using the project as a geopolitical tool to assert its supremacy in the Indian Ocean and to drive Sri Lanka into a debt trap.
China and India are keenly watching the ongoing power struggle in Sri Lanka.