Sri Lanka‘s president has lifted the suspension of parliament and scheduled a meeting of the legislature on November 5, according to his newly-appointed prime minister, in a highly anticipated move observers hope will end a bitter power struggle.
President Maithripala Sirisena named Mahinda Rajapaksa – a controversial former president – as prime minister on Friday after abruptly firing Ranil Wickremesinghe and dismissing his government.
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“President has decided to reconvene the parliament on 5th,” Rajapaksa said on Thursday, addressing a meeting at the prime minister’s office in the capital, Colombo.
There was no official word from Sirisena’s office on reconvening parliament.
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 president’s decision. “Democracy will prevail”.
The UNP welcomed the move, with legislator Ajith Perera 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.
Rajapaksa, the newly appointed prime minister, was also confident of winning majority support. He told Al Jazeera he “already” has the backing of the 113 parliamentarians needed.
‘On democracy’s side’
The UNP had alleged that the parliament’s suspension, which was to last until November 16, was aimed at buying time to shore up support for Rajapaksa’s appointment.
In recent days, Wickremesinghe’s UNP, which had the backing of 106 legislators prior to the crisis, has been hit by a number of defections. At least five UNP parliamentarians crossed over to Sirisena’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which had 96 legislators before the turmoil began.
With the two parties appearing to command similar levels of support, the stand that minority parties – the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the People’s Liberation Front (JVP) – take on the matter will be critical.
MA Sumanthiran, the leader of TNA, which has 16 seats in the House, said his party would make a decision after parliament reconvened.
“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.”
Anura Kumara Dissanayake, leader of the JVP, told thousands of supporters in Colombo that his party was “on democracy’s side”.
He accused Sirisena of violating the constitution and acting in a “dictatorial manner”, but said the JVP’s six legislators will abstain from the confidence votes in parliament.
The announcement by Rajapaksa on Thursday came a day after Sirisena held talks with Karu Jayasuriya, speaker of parliament, during which the president asked him to recognise Rajapaksa as the lawful prime minister.
Chaminda Gamage, spokesperson for the speaker, told Al Jazeera the parliament’s secretariat informed Jayasuriya 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.
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.
Tens of thousands of people rallied against Sirisena’s actions on the streets of Colombo on Tuesday.
Despite the opposition to his appointment, Rajapaksa has continued to consolidate power. On Wednesday, he 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.
Additional reporting by Rathindra Kuruwita from Colombo