Lankan constitutional crisis deepens as Speaker snubbed

Colombo: Sri Lanka’s Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya Wednesday refused to give an opinion to parliamentary Speaker Karu Jayasuriya on the current political impasse over the sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, saying it would be “deemed inappropriate”.

The Speaker, seeking the AG’s opinion, asked five questions including the one on the validity of President Maithripala Sirisena dismissing Wickremesinghe as the premier.

The Attorney General (AG) wrote back: “Having regard to the role of the Attorney General under the Constitution, I am of the view that expressing an opinion on the said questions would be deemed inappropriate.”

President Sirisena replaced Wickremesinghe with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in a dramatic turn of events Friday.

Sirisena also suspended Parliament until 16 November, which experts said was meant to buy time to engineer crossovers from Wickremesinghe’s side to Rajapaksa in the 225-member Parliament to reach the 113 working majority mark.

Rajapaksa has so far managed to rope in five more lawmakers to bolster his strength to 101.

More leaders may to join Rajapaksa’s side, Udaya Gammanpila, a Rajapaksa loyalist, said, adding that “we are keeping ministerial positions vacant for them”.

File photo of Sirisena.

So far, only 12 of the Cabinet positions out of 30 have been filled.

On Tuesday, angry protests rocked Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, as thousands of demonstrators gathered for a rally organised by Wickremesinghe’s party against what it said was a “coup” by President Sirisena, even as the opposing sides were engaged in efforts to secure their numbers in Parliament to end the country’s political crisis.

Wickremesinghe’s position was bolstered by a statement in the British House of Parliament where Hugo Swire, a former deputy foreign minister in charge of South Asia, said they continue to treat him as the legitimate Prime Minister.

New Prime Minister Rajapaksa assumed duties Wednesday as the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs.

“When I left office in 2015, our growth was 6 per cent-plus, but during the last three years and 10 months, the growth rate has reduced to 3 per cent. We have to protect our local industries and stop foreign influence on the economy,” Rajapaksa said as he called for simplifying taxes, echoing the criticism of high taxes during the Wickremesinghe government.

Rajapaksa

The country’s main Tamil party, Tamil National Alliance (TNA), after a meeting with Rajapaksa, said they were not treating Rajapaksa as the lawfully-elected Prime Minister.

“We met him on his request as a fellow Member of Parliament and his title of (former) president,” senior TNA leader M A Sumanthiran said.

Sirisena is under increasing political and diplomatic pressure to reconvene Parliament and resolve the constitutional crisis.

Wickremesinghe, refusing to accept his dismissal, argues that he cannot legally be dismissed until he loses the support of Parliament.