By Elton Gomes
Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as the country’s prime minister on Saturday after the incumbent Ranil Wickremesinghe was sacked by President Maithripala Sirisena. The surprise move could plunge the island nation into political turmoil.
In a letter to Wickremesinghe, President Sirisena said he was using his powers to remove him from the post of Prime Minister with immediate effect. However, Wickremesinghe, in a letter to the President, stated that the move was unconstitutional, and commanded “the confidence” of parliament.
The appointment was confirmed in a statement from President Sirisena’s office on Friday, but Wickremesinghe later insisted he remained the prime minister.
“I retain the confidence of the house. I am the prime minister and I have the majority,” Wickremesinghe told local media, AlJazeera reported.
Wickremesinghe continued to occupy Temple Trees, the official residence of the prime minister, and was adamant that he cannot be evicted in this manner. He said that he can be removed only by parliament where his party enjoys a majority. Wickremesinghe also vowed to seek legal action against what he terms is an unconstitutional move against him.
Sirisena suspends parliament
After taking the surprise decision, President Maithripala Sirisena on Saturday suspended parliament till November 16. “The president has prorogued the parliament,” cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told the media, Reuters reported.
What happened this morning
Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena issued two extraordinary gazette notices today morning, declaring Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.
By doing so, President Sirisena formally recognised Ranil Wickremesinghe’s dismissal – a decision that could lead to a constitutional crisis in the island nation.
Wickremesinghe seeks emergency parliament session
Sacked Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday demanded that the parliament speaker call an emergency session so that he can prove his majority, officials said.
Wickremesinghe sent a letter to Karu Jayasuriya, and sought to reconvene the assembly which was scheduled to meet on November 5 to debate the 2019 budget.
What do analysts say about the move
Political analysts say that President Sirisena’s move to appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as the prime minister could result in a constitutional crisis. This is because the 19th amendment to the Constitution will not allow for the outright sacking of incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, without a majority in parliament.
In addition, as former president, the pro-China Rajapaksa brought in billions of dollars of investment from Beijing to help rebuild Sri Lanka following the end of the 26-year-long civil war against Tamil separatists in 2009.
However, the investment saw the island nation deep in debt, and it was forced to hand over control of a strategic southern port to China. India and the United States seemed unhappy with this, as the strategic port was part Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative.
What could this mean for India
Reacting first to the appointment of Rajapaksa as prime minister, Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy congratulated the leader and expressed confidence that India will benefit from Rajapaksa’s presence.
“I’m happy because he is a staunch nationalist. He’ll not sacrifice this sovereignty even one bit for any country/terrorist group. India would benefit from good relations with him,” Swamy was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
However, a report in the Times of India mentioned that India has enough reason to worry about Rajapaksa’s return. Rajapaksa’s tenure saw China assume control of a big chunk of South Asia, and this did not augur well for India.
The anti-India rhetoric also seems to be on the rise in Sri Lanka. The island nation’s ports minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, last week declared Sri Lanks will not be handing over the Eastern Container Terminal to India, thus violating a 2017 agreement.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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