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President Sirisena Tells Meeting of 40 Diplomatic Mission Heads in Colombo that “70 to 75% of People Wanted Ranil Wickremesinghe Removed as Prime Minister”.

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Meera Srinivasan

Amidst mounting pressure to summon the Sri Lankan Parliament that has been suspended since Saturday, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is expected to soon reconvene the House, following a meeting with all-party representatives scheduled on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the deposed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday said that “a majority” of MPs has asked for reconvening the Parliament, and “the Speaker will fix a date soon”.

Sri Lanka is facing a political storm since Friday, when President Maithripala Sirisena in a snap move appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister in place of Mr. Wickremesinghe. The following day, Mr. Sirisena prorogued Parliament for more than two weeks.

“We believe that the Speaker is likely to consider reconvening the Parliament since several parties have made the request formally,” an Opposition lawmaker, requesting anonymity, told The Hindu.

Addressing Colombo-based foreign correspondents at Temple Trees — the Prime Minister’s official residence — around noon on Monday, Mr. Wickremesinghe ruled out legal action to challenge his abrupt sacking by Mr. Sirisena. “The supreme judicial power is vested in Parliament, why go elsewhere?” argued the lawyer-turned-politician.

Mr. Sirisena’s sudden decision on Friday, just after he withdrew support from the ruling coalition, has left the country in a peculiar political spot, with two Prime Ministers and two Cabinets of Ministers as of Monday. “At the moment there is a vacuum, no one is in full charge of the country,” Mr. Wickremesinghe told reporters.

On Monday evening, Mr. Sirisena swore-in 12 new Cabinet Ministers, and two junior Ministers, in a ceremony held at the Presidential Secretariat. Except the recently appointed Prime Minister, Mr. Rajapaksa, who assumed additional charge as Finance Minister, most other ministerial posts went to MPs from Mr. Sirisena’s faction that quit the government last week. Significantly, four MPs from Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) were sworn in as Ministers, revealing last-minute crossovers during the weekend.

Ahead of the ceremony, Mr. Sirisena met some 40 heads of diplomatic missions here for a discussion that lasted nearly two hours, and emphasised that his recent move was constitutional, diplomatic sources told The Hindu.

Mr. Sirisena reportedly told the participants that “nearly 70 to 75%” of the public wanted to see Mr. Wickremesinghe removed from the PM’s post, and urged them to “see the pulse of the people”. In an attempt to justify his order proroguing Parliament until November 16, Mr. Sirisena is believed to have said that the time was needed for the “new Cabinet” to settle in and prepare for the imminent Budget.

Representatives from many Western diplomatic missions, The Hindu reliably learns, made a strong case for respecting democracy and the Constitution, urging the President to summon Parliament at the earliest, echoing the U.S. State Department’s call on Sunday. While expressing willingness to work with any “any legitimate government”, the Western mission heads are said to have voiced concern over current developments that put Sri Lanka “at risk”.

Mr. Sirisena, according to a diplomatic source, told the missions that he remained fully responsible for safety and security in the country, and assured that there would be no violence.

Parliament Speaker Mr. Jayasuriya, who earlier requested Mr. Sirisena to protect the rights of Mr. Wickremesinghe, on Monday warned of possible violence if the political crisis persists. “We should settle this through Parliament, but if we take it out to the streets, there will be a huge bloodbath,” he said, according to an AFP news report.

The current political upheaval in Sri Lanka is a culmination of Mr. Sirisena’s long-growing conflict with Mr. Wickremesinghe, within Sri Lanka’s first national unity government formed by two traditionally rival parties. While the leaders’ relationship soured over the last few months, among the recent triggers for Mr. Sirisena’s drastic steps is said to be a strongly worded statement that Mr. Wickremesinghe released soon after his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month in New Delhi.

Asked about the statement, perceived by many close to the Mr. Sirisena as targeting him, Mr. Wickremesinghe said: “I just conveyed the message of Indian Prime Minister Modi”, on the slow pace of implementing India-backed projects in the island. “Any Prime Minister issues a statement based on discussions he has with another leader… the President does the same, that is the practice,” he said.

Courtesy:The Hindu

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