In a watershed floor test in the Sri Lankan Parliament, a majority of lawmakers on Wednesday voted for a no-confidence motion against disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“I hereby declare that the appointed government has no majority in this House,” Speaker Karu Jayasuriya told Parliament shortly after it reconvened.
Parliament had been shut for nearly three weeks since President Maithripala Sirisena prorogued and subsequently dissolved it, in the wake of an unprecedented political struggle in the country.
The vote was taken up after Leader of the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Anura Kumara Dissanayake, moved a motion against Mr. Rajapaksa and his Cabinet, terming their appointment “unconstitutional.”
On October 26, Mr. Sirisena abruptly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and installed Mr. Rajapaksa, a former President, in his place, sparking widespread criticism.
After Mr. Rajapaksa’s MPs refused to vote by name in the floor test on Wednesday, the Speaker called for a vote by voice and declared that the ayes had it.
The development — coming a day after the Supreme Court stayed the sacking of Parliament — signalled a major setback for Mr. Sirisena, with both the judiciary and the legislature challenging his recent actions.
Following the vote, the Speaker said he was sending a copy of the motion, signed by 122 MPs, to the President for further action. Responding to the Speaker, the President has reportedly said in a letter that Mr. Jayasuriya ignored parliamentary procedures and standing orders, and failed to get the signatures’ list certified by a notary.
Mr. Sirisena has also convened a meeting with the Speaker, and leaders of parties that voted against Mr. Rajapaksa, on Thursday morning at the Presidential Secretariat, a top political source told The Hindu.
Earlier in the House, the tension was palpable. The Speaker suspended standing orders on the day’s agenda, after a majority backed TNA legislator M.A. Sumanthiran’s motion for it. Just as the House prepared to take up the no-confidence vote, Mr. Rajapaksa rose and left the Chamber, escorted by his son and young MP Namal Rajapaksa.
MPs backing Mr. Rajapaksa meanwhile roared in protest and claimed the proceedings breached Parliamentary tradition, drowning the Speaker’s voice as he said the House was convening in an “extraordinary” situation.
After Mr. Jayasuriya declared that the majority had voted out Mr. Rajapaksa, the MPs pointed to the Speaker, and chanted “pissek, pissek” (a mad person) in chorus.
The House was soon adjourned until Thursday morning.
The outcome of the floor test evoked opposite reactions from the rival camps.
MP Namal Rajapaksa accused the Speaker Mr. Jayasuriya — formerly with Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) — of being “biased”.
“We have no faith in the Speaker, we don’t believe in him, we don’t believe he can conduct the Parliament in an independent manner,” he told reporters. Asked if his father Mr. Rajapaksa would step down in light of the vote, the young lawmaker said the vote was taken up “against the tradition of Parliament”, and it was President Sirisena who would decide on the next moves.
On the other hand, UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa said: “The proper parliamentary procedure was followed. We proved our majority. Democracy prevailed.”
Commenting on the political crisis that led to Wednesday’s vote, JVP leader Mr. Dissanayake said Mr. Rajapaksa had fallen prey to President Sirisena’s “political opportunism”.
Speaking to reporters in Parliament soon after the vote, he said: “Rajapaksa, the youngest MP ever to enter Parliament in 1970 was today at the lowest point of his political career. He was helpless and had to leave the chamber, unable to win the vote.”