Colombo: Supporters say disputed Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse has decided to resign in an attempt to end the country’s political crisis.
The decision Friday came a day after the Supreme Court ruled that President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Parliament and appoint Rajapakse as prime minister was unconstitutional.
A look at how Sri Lanka has plunged into a political crisis and what could happen next:
How it came about
The conflict began when Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapakse, a former strongman president, in his place. Wickremesinghe said that Sirisena didn’t follow the constitution in removing him and claimed to still be the lawful prime minister. Rajapakse sought to secure a majority in Parliament but failed. In response, Sirisena dissolved Parliament and ordered new elections, but those actions were put on hold by the Supreme Court until it heard the case and delivered its judgement Thursday. After the court suspended the dissolution, Parliament reconvened and passed two no-confidence votes against Rajapakse, but he held on to office with Sirisena’s backing. Parliament also voted to block funds for him and his Cabinet. Lawmakers opposing Rajapakse took the fight to the Court of Appeal, which suspended Rajapakse and his Cabinet from functioning in their positions until it concludes the case. Rajapakse asked the Supreme Court to end the suspension, but it rejected the request on Friday.
Sirisena and Wickremesinghe are ideological opponents who formed a coalition to defeat Rajapakse in 2015 elections. Rajapakse, who was president from 2005 to 2015, is considered a hero by some in Sri Lanka’s ethnic Sinhalese majority because he oversaw the end of a 25-year civil war by crushing ethnic minority Tamil rebels in 2009. But his time in power was marred by allegations of wartime atrocities, corruption and nepotism. Sirisena had opposed Wickremesinghe’s efforts to investigate alleged military abuses in the final days of the war.
What could happen
A pro-Rajapakse lawmaker, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, said Rajapakse decided in a meeting with Sirisena to resign on Saturday to allow the president to appoint a new government. Sirisena has resisted suggestions that he reappoint Wickremesinghe, but may now be compelled to do so since Wickremesinghe has shown he has the support of 117 lawmakers, a majority of the 225-member Parliament. Reappointing Wickremesinghe would allow a functioning government and Parliament. It would also allow lawmakers to dissolve Parliament by a two-thirds vote and hold new elections. Lawmakers could also attempt to impeach Sirisena on the basis of the Supreme Court ruling that his order to dissolve Parliament violated the constitution. But it may be difficult to obtain the required support of two-thirds of Parliament’s members to approve an impeachment motion.
Impact of a prolonged crisis
Without a functioning government, the national budget for 2019 can’t be approved. That means that after January 1 there would be no funds for public programs and no salaries for government employees. A $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) foreign debt repayment is due early next year and it is not clear if that can be paid without a finance minister legally in place.