Sri Lanka president Sirisena to lift parliament suspension

Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena has lifted the suspension of parliament and scheduled a meeting of the legislature on November 5 amid mounting pressure to end a political crisis.

Sirisena named Mahinda Rajapaksa – a former two-time president – as prime minister on Friday after abruptly dismissing the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“President has decided to reconvene the parliament on 5th,” Rajapaksa said addressing a meeting at the prime minister’s office in the capital, Colombo.

The move will allow the 225-member House to choose between Rajapaksa and his opponent Wickremesinge, who has been demanding that his United National Party (UNP) be allowed to prove its majority on the floor of the House.

“The people’s voices have been heard,” Wickremesinge tweeted following the presidential decision. “Democracy will prevail”.

The UNP welcomed the move. “We have 124 legislators with us. When parliament is convened, we will show our majority,” Ajith Perera, a UNP legislator, said at a news conference.

Unconstitutional move

Wickremesinghe has said his removal is unconstitutional and has questioned Sirisena’s earlier decision to prorogue the parliament till November 16.

His demand for an earlier session to resolve the political crisis was backed by political parties and foreign powers.

The move comes a day after President Sirisena and Speaker of parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, who belongs to sacked prime minister’s UNP party, held a meeting during which the president asked the Speaker to recognise Rajapaksa as the lawful prime minister.

Chaminda Gamage, spokesman for the Speaker, told Al Jazeera the parliament’s secretariat informed the Speaker they would act according to the president’s orders and treat Rajapaksa as the prime minister.

“The secretary of the parliament, the sergeant at arms and other staff are officials of the state and they said have to follow the president’s orders. The speaker will not obstruct that,” he said.

Widespread concern

The appointment of Rajapaksa, a former president accused of human rights abuses and corruption, drew widespread concern, with critics saying the president did not have the authority to name a new prime minister until the incumbent was defeated in a no-confidence vote.

The surprise moves, which critics denounced as a “coup”, drew tens of thousands of protesters to the streets of Colombo on Tuesday.

Despite the dispute over the legality of his appointment, the newly appointed prime minister continued to consolidate power. On Wednesday, Rajapaksa assumed the finance minister’s duties and officials said he was expected to begin work on the state budget for 2018 soon.

Wickremesinghe, meanwhile, remained holed up in the prime minister’s official residence at Temple Trees, where Buddhist monks have been reciting prayers throughout the day.

The ousted prime minister, whose popularity is declining amid widespread anger over costs of living, insisted he commanded majority support in the House.

Additional reporting by Rathindra Kuruwita from Colombo

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