In his first public confrontation yet with President Maithripala Sirisena since the dramatic events of October 26, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya on Monday indicated that he would not accept former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister until his majority is proven in parliament.
Citing the opinion of a majority of lawmakers that the recent changes were “undemocratic” and “inconsistent with the traditions of Parliament”, the Speaker said in a media statement: “I wish to emphasise that I am compelled to accept the status that existed previously until such time that they and the new political alliance prove their majority in Parliament.”
Seeks Sirisena’s support
Pointing to President Sirisena’s earlier assurance to him that Parliament would be reconvened on November 7, Mr. Jayasuriya said: “If I am to follow the verbal assurance…it is my duty as Speaker to summon Parliament by 7th November and restore stability in the country. I consider it as the duty of His Excellency the President too to extend his support to me towards this end.”
Coming a day after President Sirisena’s announcement that Parliament would be reconvened on November 14, the Speaker’s statement suggests a shift in his approach to tackling the political crisis that broke out on October 26.
Sri Lanka has been in turmoil since Mr. Sirisena’s abrupt decision to sack his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appoint his former rival Mr. Rajapaksa in his place. Shortly after this, Mr. Sirisena prorogued Parliament for over a fortnight, drawing wide criticism.
While Mr. Jayasuriya, in a letter to Mr. Sirisena on October 28, urged him to reconvene Parliament, Monday’s statement suggested the Speaker may have now taken matters into his own hands.
Further, in a letter to select Colombo-based diplomats on Monday, Mr. Jayasuriya made no bones of his position on the matter, and termed the recent developments a “coup”, The Hindu learns. “The entire series of events can only be described a coup, albeit one without the use of tanks and guns,” Mr. Jayasuriya had said, diplomatic sources confirmed.
While it remains to be seen if the Speaker will reconvene Parliament on Wednesday, defying Mr. Sirisena’s announcement, the “new government” appeared keen on asserting its power. Senior lawmaker and a Rajapaksa ally Dinesh Gunawardena on Monday “assumed charge” at the Office of Leader of the House in Parliament, local media reported. “They took over the office by force, and it seems that the Sergeant At Arms connived with them,” said Lakshman Kiriella, Leader of House in the national unity government that collapsed recently. “Clearly, they are disregarding the Speaker’s announcement,” he told The Hindu.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna met and discussed their strategy to tackle the crisis. The two parties, with 15 and 6 lawmakers respectively, will have a crucial say in the imminent vote in the 225-member House, given that the Rajapaksa-Sirisena combine, as of Monday afternoon, had about 105 MPs on its side, while deposed PM Wickremesinghe’s front had 98.
Following the meeting, JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said: “What happened on October 26 was a coup. We reached an agreement today with the TNA that in Parliament, we will intervene to defeat this coup, and stand up for democracy in whatever way we have to.”
TNA leader and Leader of Opposition R. Sampanthan said the circumstances in which the Parliament was prorogued raised “grave doubts” of MPs being bought over with the promise of office and money. “This is not acceptable, this is a violation of the tenets of democracy and we are committed to oppose that,” he said.