By Dharisha Bastians and Jeffrey Gettleman
A majority of Sri Lankan lawmakers voted Wednesday (14) morning to remove Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister, saying that his appointment last month was illegal.
Mr. Rajapaksa is considered the strongman of Sri Lankan politics, a wealthy, powerful former president who has been accused of grave human rights abuses. The country has been tied in knots since late last month when President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly fired the previous prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and appointed Mr. Rajapaksa to the post.
It was a rambunctious, unruly few hours in Parliament this morning.
Lawmakers allied with Mr. Wickremesinghe walked into the chamber wearing black sashes that read “For democracy.’’ The gallery was packed with journalists, diplomats and everyday citizens. Lawmakers allied with Mr. Rajapaksa did whatever they could to block a vote of no confidence. Some yelled, while others tried to grab the ceremonial mace, the parliamentary symbol of power. Some even called the speaker of Parliament a “mad fool.”
But a majority of lawmakers were determined to hold the vote. Mr. Rajapaksa then walked out. When the ayes were counted, 122 out of 225 said they wanted Mr. Rajapaksa gone.
“This is a historic day,” a triumphant Mr. Wickremesinghe said.
It is unclear what will happen next. Sri Lanka has a slightly unusual leadership structure in which executive powers are vested in both the president and the prime minister. Mr. Sirisena, the president, seems to have backed himself into a corner and miscalculated the intensity of the resistance to his appointment of Mr. Rajapaksa.
The prime minister he fired, Mr. Wickremesinghe, was definitely less popular than Mr. Rajapaksa before this crisis started. Many Sri Lankans saw Mr. Wickremesinghe as aloof and ineffective, numb to the economic troubles that have begun to pile up around them as this island nation slides deeper into debt, much of it to China.
Mr. Rajapaksa had seemed well entrenched as president until Mr. Sirisena defied the odds and beat him in the 2015 election. Some people were concerned about Mr. Rajapaksa’s deals with China; many others were worried about his authoritarian tendencies and intolerance for dissent, including crackdowns on journalists and dissidents. Human rights groups blamed him for the deaths of thousands of civilians killed on his watch by army commanders, who shelled civilian areas at the end of Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war.
Still, many Sri Lankans see Mr. Rajapaksa as a hero for bringing that war to a decisive close. And the economy has worsened since he left office, making his time at the helm seem like brighter days. Analysts say that had Mr. Rajapaksa simply waited and run again in 2020, he probably could have won.
It was the backdoor way in which Mr. Sirisena tried to bring Mr. Rajapaksa back into power that incensed so many Sri Lankans, including the majority of Parliament. Mr. Sirisena knew Parliament was against him and ordered it dissolved last week. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court stepped in, setting that decision aside and paving the way for Parliament to reconvene.
Now Sri Lanka is waiting to see what the president does next.
In an interview, Mr. Rajapaksa’s son Namal said that his father would not resign and insisted that the speaker of Parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, had acted out of order in conducting the vote.
“It was unethical,” he said.
Courtesy:New York Times