Sri Lanka parties petition court against parliament dissolution

Three main parties challenge President Sirisena's decision to dissolve parliament and call for snap election.

    Sri Lanka's main parties on Monday petitioned the Supreme Court against President Maithripala Sirisena's decision to dissolve parliament and call for a snap election in the South Asian island nation.

    Sirisena late on Friday called snap elections for January 5 and dismissed parliament, two weeks after sacking the prime minister and installing the divisive former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place.

    Overthrown Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP), the main opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the leftist JVP, or People's Liberation Front, were among 10 groups that filed the action, officials said.

    We must all act with patriotism and independence to safeguard the future of democracy in our country

    Karu Jayasuriya, the speaker of parliament

    Three parties, which together enjoy an absolute majority in the 225-member House, on Monday asked the Supreme Court to declare the president's actions illegal.

    "The petitions were accepted this morning and it is up to the Chief Justice to decide when it will be taken up for hearing," a court official said.

    He said several civil society groups and individuals had also submitted separate petitions, all seeking a declaration against the presidential action against the legislature.

    On Sunday, the speaker of parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, urged civil servants to defy Sirisena's "illegal orders".

    "I have watched over the last two weeks as the executive branch has seized the rights and usurped the powers of members of parliament who were elected to represent the people," he said.

    "We must all act with patriotism and independence to safeguard the future of democracy in our country."

    'Civil unrest'

    Defending his decision, Sirisena said violent clashes among rival MPs could have led to "civil unrest" across the country if the legislature had met as scheduled this week.

    "Had I allowed the parliament to meet on November 14, there would have been violence in the House and it could have spread to our villages and towns," Sirisena said in his first address to the nation since the crisis erupted on Friday.

    "I acted to prevent civil unrest."

    Sirisena's rivals maintain that he had no constitutional power to sack the House until it completed four-and-a-half years of its five-year term, which ends in August 2020.

    Only China has recognised the appointment of Rajapaksa who, during his decade as president, relied heavily on Beijing for both diplomatic and financial support as the West shunned him over his human rights record.

    The United States has led a chorus of international voices expressing concern over threats to democracy on the island of 21 million people, which is strategically located in the Indian Ocean.

    Election monitors have questioned the legality of the snap poll announced by Srisena.

    The People's Action for Free and Fair Elections said it had already asked the independent Elections Commission to seek an opinion from the attorney general and an order from the Supreme Court.

    SOURCE: AFP news agency