The President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena dissolved the parliament Friday night and called for a general election on Jan. 5 amid a political crisis. However, the decision can still be challenged in court.
The decision, published in the official gazette, deepens the political crisis that is affecting the country since Sirisena broke with the government coalition and dismissed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, replacing cabinet members with his own allies on Oct. 27.
Sirisena suspended the parliament right after, a move described by Wickremesinghe as an attempt to prevent him from contesting the decision.
The president of the parliament Karu Jayasuriya, negotiated with Sirisena to hold a session on Nov.14 to decide on the appointment of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s choice for the new Prime Minister. The decision was announced just hours after the ruling party recognized that they were eight or nine votes short of a majority in the 225-member parliament.
“The entire series of events can only be described as a coup, albeit one without the use of tanks and guns,” Jayasuriya said in a letter dated Nov. 5 to diplomats and foreign missions, adding the “entire matter was pre-planned.”
Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) rejected the dissolution claiming they had the necessary support to revert Sirisena’s decision.
“This is another anti-democratic and unconstitutional act,” a spokesperson of the UNP, Harin Fernando, told EFE.
Vijitha Herath, a spokesperson for the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), said the dissolution violated the constitution deepening the country’s crisis.
“It’s the second time the president violates the constitution, and the reason is that he doesn’t have the required majority of 113. By doing this, he has taken the country to an abyss,” said Herath, adding he hopes the Election Commission rejects the president’s decision.
Independent legal experts had told Reuters that parliament could be dissolved only in early 2020, which would be four-and-half-years from the first sitting of the current parliament. The only other legal ways would be through a referendum, or with the consent of two-thirds of lawmakers.
Ajith Perera, a lawmaker in the Wickremesinghe-led United National Party (UNP) said the party will challenge the decision at the Election Commission first and then head to the Supreme Court.
The next sitting of the parliament is set for Jan. 17. Its members will be elected on Jan. 5 and aspiring candidates should present their documents between Nov. 19 and 26.
Wickremesinghe has refused to vacate the official prime minister’s residence saying he is the prime minister and had a parliamentary majority. Sirisena has said he fired the prime minister because he was trying to implement “a new, extreme liberal political concept by giving more priority for foreign policies and neglecting the local people’s sentiment.”
Sirisena and Wickremesinghe agreed to a coalition in the 2015 elections to oust then president Rajapaksa, labeled as “pro-China.” As tensions between them grew in the last three years, Sirisena teamed up with Rajapaksa to break the alliance.
Beijing loaned Sri Lanka billions of dollars for infrastructure projects when Rajapaksa was president between 2005-2015.