Wickremesinghe’s move to seek a fresh mandate comes as peace talks with Tamil Tiger rebels have been put off until the political impasse is resolved.

 

Government spokesman GL Peiris said the government was prepared for an election, four years ahead of schedule, to get over the political impasse after President Chandrika Kumaratunga sacked three key ministers and suspended Parliament.

 

Peiris, who is also the Constitutional Affairs Minister, said the government would welcome a snap election as it was confident it could increase its majority in parliament.

  

Endorsement

 

"Given everything that has happened in the past four days we have absolutely no doubt that the people will endorse what we have been doing and we have no problems going before the people," he said, adding, "In fact we welcome it. The government has no reason to worry."

  

Peiris said Kumaratunga's actions last week had prompted a drastic fall in the Colombo Stock Exchange, underscoring the nervousness of investors who were concerned over the country's stability.

 

Kumaratunga's actions have sparked
political turmoil in Sri Lanka

Wickremesinghe's party defeated Kumaratunga's People's Alliance at a snap parliamentary election in December 2001 after Kumaratunga's then government collapsed with mass defections two months earlier.

  

Kumaratunga was elected as president at a separate vote and can remain in office until December 2005.

 

A fresh election could briefly take away Kumaratunga's power to sack the legislature, as the president can only do so after the parliament has completed one full year of its six-year term.

  

The parliament has the power to impeach the president, but Wickremesinghe's party currently lacks the two-thirds majority required for that.

 

Peace process

 

Peiris said the country's peace process had been placed in jeopardy by Kumaratunga taking over the vital defence ministry while the cohabitation government of Wickremesinghe was talking with Tamil Tiger rebels.

 

Peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels have consequently been postponed until the political crisis in Sri Lanka is resolved, the spokesman said.

 

"Given everything that has happened in the past few days, it is logical to assume that we have to resolve the threshold issue before anything else," Peiris said.

 

"We have absolutely no doubt that the people will endorse what we have been doing"

GL Peiris,
government spokesman

Peiris insisted the government could not pursue the Norwegian-backed peace process with the rebels with the president holding the defence, interior and information portfolios, which she wrested from the government last week.

  

Norwegian envoys are due to arrive in Sri Lanka on Monday night and had been expected to arrange a preliminary meeting between the government and the rebels either in late November or in early December.

  

Peiris said the government would have "a candid discussion" with the Norwegian special peace envoy Erik Solheim and Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen.

  

The government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have been observing a ceasefire since February last year.

 

On 31 October, the rebels publicly unveiled their own power-sharing plan and said they were interested in pursuing peace talks with the government. A few days later Kumaratunga made her controversial moves triggering a political crisis.