Sri Lankan president Sirisena to lift parliament suspension

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

President Maithripala 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 Wickremesinghe, 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,” Wickremesinghe tweeted following the presidential decision. “Democracy will prevail”.

The UNP welcomed the move with Ajith Perera, a UNP legislator, saying the party was confident of winning support for Wickremesinghe in parliament.

“We have 124 legislators with us. When parliament is convened, we will show our majority,” he said at a news conference.

However, Wickremesinghe’s UNP, which had the backing of 106 legislators prior to the crisis, has been hit by a number of defections in recent days.

At least five UNP parliamentarians crossed over to Sirisena’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). The coalition of parties had 96 legislators before the crisis erupted.

Observers say the stand of minority parties, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the People’s Liberation Front, which command together the support of 22 legislators, will be critical.

MA Sumanthiran, the leader of TNA, said his party would make a decision after the parliament session.

“The main reason for this crisis was the way in which Sirisena appointed Rajapaksa,” Sumanthiran told reporters. “The TNA will make its decision after considering violations of the constitution and the law.”

But Rajapaksa told Al Jazeera on Thursday that he had the support of “130” parliamentarians and he would be able to prove a majority in parliament.

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 overthrown 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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