Ousted Lankan PM’s party takes to street against ‘coup’

Mahinda Rajapaksa

Colombo: Sri Lanka on Tuesday braced for a protest called by ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s party against what it said was a ‘coup’ by President Maithripala Sirisena which has triggered a political crisis in the country.

Sri Lanka plunged into chaos Friday when President Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in a surprise move. He suspended parliament in an apparent bid to shore up support for newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) is set to hold a protest today in the capital, Colombo.

Mangala Samaraweera, the ex-finance minister under Wickremesinghe said, “This was a constitutional coup and it is our duty to protect democracy and sovereignty of people.”

“We are calling upon all sections of the society who believe in democracy and rule of law to gather and protest,” Champika Ranawaka, another former minister said. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has urged the president to let Wickremesinghe prove his majority support on the parliament floor. Wickremesinghe too has said that he still commands the majority.

However, he suffered a setback after four lawmakers from his party, who had pledged allegiance to him in the public, took a U-turn and accepted ministerial positions in the Rajapaksa government.
Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, a Rajapaksa loyalist, said, “We are waiting for more UNP members to join us. We have the numbers.”

In light of this, Speaker Jayasuriya has called for a meeting of all party leaders to assess the current political situation. At least 128 members had written to him calling for reconvening of parliament. Ranjith Madduma Bandara, an ex-minister said, “We have the majority despite four of them joining Rajapaksa.”

Wickremesinghe claimed in a Facebook post on Monday he had obtained the signatures of 126 MPs calling for parliament to be returned immediately to end the political standoff. Both camps are working to secure their numbers in parliament.

Rajapaksa’s tenure as president was marred by allegations of authoritarianism, corruption and human rights abuses, especially against the country’s Tamil minority.

Repurcussions in TN

The ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK have demanded the central government to ensure the safety of Tamilians in Sri Lanka. Other smaller parties like the MDMK and the Left have also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene.

Chief Minister Edapaddi K Palaniswami said the AIADMK would continue its efforts to try Rajapakse as a ‘war criminal’ in the International Court of Justice for ‘killing’ innocent Tamilians. He said, ‘AIADMK follows the footsteps of Amma. When she was the chief minister, she wanted Rajapakse to be called as a war criminal. We will adopt the same stand,’ he said.

Meanwhile, eleven fishermen from Tamilnadu were arrested Monday by Sri Lankan Naval personnel for allegedly crossing the International Maritime Boundary line and fishing near Neduntheevu in the island nation. The fishermen were later taken to Kankesanthurai in the island nation Their two boats were also seized.