Sri Lanka’s Parliament on Wednesday passed a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was installed by President Maithripala Sirisena in a controversial move, a day after the Supreme Court overturned the presidential decree to dissolve the House and hold snap polls on January 5.
Amid raucous scenes, Parliament on Wednesday met for the first time since October 26 when President Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and installed Rajapaksa in his place and suspended the House, plunging the island nation into an unprecedented constitutional crisis.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya announced that a majority of the 225-member Parliament supported the no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa, the 72-year-old former strongman, who ruled the country for a decade from 2005. “According to the voice, I recognise that the Government has no majority,” Jayasuriya announced in the House as Rajapaksa supporters protested.
He gave the ruling after the no-confidence motion was taken for a vote. The Speaker calculated the votes based on the voices he heard.
The passing of the no-confidence motion comes as a major blow to President Sirisena and a victory to ousted Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. The resolution was moved by Left-wing Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party leader Anura Kumara Dissanayaka and lawmaker Vijitha Herath.
The Tamil National Alliance and smaller Muslim parties supported the no-confidence motion. Three newly sworn Cabinet Ministers and a state Minister also crossed over to the Opposition benches in support. Rajapaksa needed the support of a minimum of 113 lawmakers in the House to prove his majority.
Supporters of Rajapaksa refused to recognise the vote as legitimate, plunging the country deeper into crisis, as fears grow that the political dispute could spill into protracted instability in the island nation. Jayasuriya later adjourned the House until 10 am on Thursday.
Speaker Jayasuriya has written to President Sirisena, asking him to take further constitutional action. A copy of the motion with 122 signatures of lawmakers, who have expressed lack of confidence in Prime Minister Rajapaksa and his Cabinet, has been sent to Sirisena.
The Speaker’s office said that the Speaker has requested the President to take the next step under the Constitution. Speaking after the no-trust vote, ousted Prime Minister Wickremsinghe claimed that his Government had been restored after extra constitutional action by President Sirisena to sack him as the premier.
“We will now take steps to ensure that the government in place before October 26 will continue. I wish to inform all government servants and police that you should not carry out illegal orders from the purported government that has failed to demonstrate the confidence of the people,” he said.
Wickremesinghe has denounced Sirisena’s attempt to remove him from office and refused to leave the official prime minister’s residence, claiming the president does not have the power to take such action. Senior leader of Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) Sajith Premadasa said that the Government headed by Rajapaksa clearly lost the floor test.
He demanded that Prime Minister Rajapaksa must now step down. However, Dinesh Gunawardena and Vasudeva Nanayakkara, both Rajapaksa’s senior aides, said the Speaker’s action was illegal.
Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa said the floor test in Parliament was illegal and so Rajapaksa will continue as Prime Minister, further deepening the political crisis that has paralysed the Government for nearly three weeks. The Parliament session on Wednesday comes a day after the Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned President Sirisena’s controversial decision to dissolve Parliament and halted the preparations for snap polls on January 5.
In its ruling, the apex court had said Sirisena’s dissolution of Parliament will be suspended until December 7 and it will consider
all the petitions filed on the President’s decision next month before giving a final ruling. After the court verdict, Speaker Jayasuriya summoned Parliament’s session for Wednesday morning.
Sirisena dissolved Parliament after it became clear that he lacked support from lawmakers to install Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister following his sacking of Wickremesinghe as premier.
While sacking Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, President Sirisena had also suspended Parliament till November 16. He, however, advanced the convening of the House to November 14 amid international and domestic pressure against the move.
Sirisena later dissolved Parliament, almost 20 months before its term was to end, and ordered snap election, plunging the country’s into an unprecedented political and constitutional crises.
Sirisena on Sunday defended his move to dissolve Parliament, saying it was taken to prevent clashes among rival lawmakers.
Former president Rajapaksa was unexpectedly defeated by his deputy Sirisena in the presidential election held in 2015 with the support from Wickremesinghe’s UNP.
However, the power-sharing arrangement between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe became increasingly tenuous on several policy matters, especially on issues like the economy and security. And subsequently, Sirisena abruptly ousted Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Rajapaksa.