Each day brings new twists and turns in Sri Lanka, as two Prime Ministers compete for legitimacy after President Maithripala Sirisena perpetuated a constitutional crisis by swearing in former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister on October 26 even though the man he replaced, Ranil Wickremesinghe, commanded a majority in parliament.
Even as Rajapaksa assumed duties as Prime Minister on October 29, Wickremesinghe claimed that most party MPs wanted a vote in Parliament at an early date.
The net has been cast wide for defectors. There was the bizarre case of a ruling party MP reportedly first joining the Rajapaksa camp after meeting him and then meeting Wickremesinghe and claiming that he was always with Wickremesinghe!
Sri Lanka has no anti-defection law for its law makers. Buying and selling of MPs with generous financial contribution from external intelligence agencies of powerful countries is not unheard of in the island nation. The President has conveniently prorogued parliament until November 16, ostensibly because Rajapaksa does not have the numbers in the House. Wickremesinghe contends that this was illegal as parliament can only be prorogued after consultation with the Speaker. The Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya, has made it clear that the way out of the impasse is to convene parliament immediately. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the JVP, apart from Wickremesinghe’s party, the United National Party (UNP), have demanded that parliament meet at an early date.
In a letter to the Speaker, TNA leader R. Sampanthan said: “Recognising the necessity of upholding the supremacy of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and also Recognising the supremacy of Parliament comprising of democratically elected representatives of the people, I hereby call upon yourself, Sir, to uphold the rule of Law by summoning Parliament forthwith to enable Parliament to perform its legitimate functions.”
The TNA holds the post of Leader of Opposition in parliament, a rarity considering that either the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) or the UNP, the two big Sinhala parties, always held the post. However, in the current struggle, the TNA, which has repeatedly taken the moral high ground when it comes to the question of Tamil rights, has shied away from supporting Wickremesinghe following his ouster in a constitutional coup. It has stopped with asking for a vote, much to the horror of Wickremesinghe’s supporters.
When a truce is finally called in the current battle between Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe, there could be two losers instead of one: The TNA and President Sirisena.