Sri Lanka president suspends parliament amid political crisis

Maithripala Sirisena sacked PM Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday night.

    Rajapaksa prays at a Buddhist temple after being sworn in as the new PM in Colombo [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]
    Rajapaksa prays at a Buddhist temple after being sworn in as the new PM in Colombo [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

    Hours after Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, he has suspended the South Asian country's parliament.

    "The president has prorogued the parliament with effect from 12 noon on Saturday," cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters.

    Parliamentary officials said the president had suspended all meetings of the 225-member house until November 16, AFP news agency reported.

    The move came after Wickremesinghe, who said he remains prime minister, urged the speaker to convene the parliament on Sunday to prove he still retained his parliamentary majority.

    Sri Lanka was plunged in a constitutional crisis after Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe and gave the job to former president Rajapaksa, who was sworn in on Friday night.

    Reports said supporters of Rajapaksa stormed several state media institutions and intimidated staff after he was sworn in.

    Surprise move

    In a surprise move that triggered political turmoil in the island nation, Sirisena dismissed Wickremesinghe, who was away touring the south of the country.

    Sirisena has accused Wickremesinghe and his party of privatising and selling public ventures to foreign countries and large-scale corruption.

    A major port developed by Rajapaksa's government in Sri Lanka's south-east was leased to a Chinese company last year. 

    Under the Sri Lankan constitution, the president has the power to name the prime minister. 

    Wickremesinghe insisted he remained the prime minister. "I retain the confidence of the house. I am the prime minister and I have the majority," he said on Friday.

    "According to the constitution, I'm the prime minister. That [removal] is not legal," he said.

    Sirisena, who was health minister under Rajapaksa from 2010 to 2014, joined forces with Wickremesinghe to defeat the former president in elections in January 2015.

    He was elected president on the backing of Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP). On Friday, Sirisensa's United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) said it would quit the ruling coalition.

    Sirisena's UPFA has only 96 seats in parliament, while the UNP has 106 members in the 225-seat parliament. 

    The developments bring an end to a coalition government that was formed more than three years ago on promises of economic reform and accountability for alleged atrocities committed during Rajapaksa's 10-year rule at the close of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war.

    Rajapaksa spearheaded the military campaign to defeat the Tamil rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009 to end a 26-year conflict in the north and eastern parts of the country.

    SOURCE: News agencies