Sri Lanka‘s parliament has descended into chaos for a second day as legislators supporting disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa threw books, furniture and chilli paste at rivals in a bid to block a second no-confidence motion against him.
The pandemonium on Friday began when the pro-Rajapaksa politicians poured on to the floor of parliament and prevented Speaker Karu Jayasuriya from taking his chair.
After more than an hour, Jayasuriya managed to finally enter the red-carpeted chamber under the protection of dozens of unarmed officers and parliamentary staff.
Rioting legislators then took away the ceremonial chair, but staff carried in an ordinary office chair as a makeshift replacement. However, rioters grabbed that chair too, breaking it into pieces that were then used as projectiles to attack rivals and police officers.
The police held boards around the speaker to protect him from being hit by the angry politicians as he conducted a voice vote on a revised no-confidence motion against the disputed prime minister.
After the motion passed, Jayasuriya adjourned the house until Monday.
In a letter to President Maithripala Sirisena later on Friday, the speaker said 122 legislators in the 225-member House voted against Rajapaksa, a controversial former president whose appointment as prime minister on October 26 plunged the Indian Ocean nation into a protracted political crisis.
Sirisena named Rajapaksa to the post after firing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in a move widely denounced as unconstitutional. The deposed leader’s supporters brought a no-confidence motion against the newly appointed prime minister when Sirisena refused to allow a vote to test Wickremesinghe’s support on the parliament floor.
Rajapaksa lost the no-trust motion on Wednesday but refused to step down saying it should not have been put to a voice vote.
The former president, who had stayed away from the clashes on Friday, told his supporters he did not accept the outcome of the second vote either.
“If they pass a no-confidence motion according to proper procedure, we are ready to leave,” Rajapaksa said at the Kasagala Temple in southern Sri Lanka. “But we cannot accept it if they try to pass it by force in a nasty manner.”
A vote on a second no-confidence motion was scheduled after Sirisena met the leaders of the political parties that voted for the first resolution against Rajapaksa on Thursday following fistfights in the parliament earlier that day.
During the meeting, the president asked the leaders to take up the motion again and allow it to be debated before being put to a roll-call vote.
Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene, a spokesman for Sirisena, said the president did not accept Friday’s vote as “proper procedure was not followed”.
Opposition legislator R Sampathan said it was Rajapaksa loyalists who prevented a roll-call vote on the motion as requested by Sirisena.
A former parliament staffer said Friday’s scenes were unprecedented.
“We haven’t had a situation where the speaker was prevented from entering the chamber,” former sergeant-at-arms Wijaya Palliyaguruge told the AFP news agency.
“This is also the first time that the speaker had to come in with police protection.”
A Rajapaksa loyalist was seen throwing chilli powder at rival legislators and police. Several constables and legislators were taken to the parliament’s medical centre for first aid.
Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, a legislator from the party of Wickremesinghe, the sacked prime minister, said he was among those treated after chilli mixed with water was thrown at his face.
Vijitha Herath, another legislator, said he suffered a forehead injury when a rival hit him with a hard-cover copy of the constitution that was on the speaker’s table.
Rajapaksa’s spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella denied they attacked police or staff, but blamed the speaker for the chaos.
“He (the speaker) need not have rushed the vote,” Rambukwella told reporters in parliament after sittings were adjourned.
Speaking at a press conference after the vote, Wickremesinghe demanded the restoration of the status quo prior to October 26.
“The country needs stability,” he told reporters. “Let the status quo come back.”
Wickremesinghe said he was ready to work with Sirisena despite their bitter differences.
Sirisena responded to Friday’s raucous scenes in a Twitter post, saying he would not dissolve parliament.
He called upon “all parties to uphold principles of democracy and parliamentary traditions at all times”.
Sirisena had dissolved parliament last week and ordered elections to break the deadlock in the wake of his decision to fire Wickremesinghe. But the Supreme Court ordered a suspension of that decree on Tuesday until it had heard petitions challenging the move as unconstitutional.
Rathindra Kuruwita contributed to this report from Colombo.