Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Sunday stoutly defended his controversial move to dissolve the parliament, saying it was taken to prevent clashes among rival lawmakers and also blamed Speaker Karu Jayasuriya for not accepting his presidential powers. In an address to the nation, Sirisena outlined the reasons for dissolving parliament almost two years ahead of schedule.
Sirisena’s decision was criticised by ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, some political parties and civil society groups as unconstitutional and illegal. The president said there were media reports that politicians would clash during a vote to decide between two men claiming the premiership.
On October 26, Sirisena abruptly sacked Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa, after three-and-a-half years of an estranged relationship with him. The island nation plunged into a constitutional crisis following the move. Sirisena had suspended parliamentary proceedings until November 16. Later, owing to domestic and international pressure, he issued a notice to reconvene parliament on November 14.
However, on Friday, Sirisena dissolved parliament and announced snap polls on January 5 next year. Sirisena decided to dismiss the 225-member parliament just hours after his party admitted the party did not have a sufficient number of votes to elect Rajapaksa.
“If I allowed the parliament to meet on November 14, there would have been violence in the House and it could have spread to our villagers and towns,” Sirisena said.
“It was sad that parliamentarians were being traded for rupees 100 to 150 million,” Sirisena said, referring to statements made by some of the parliamentarians that they were offered huge money to switch sides. Sirisena also blamed parliamentary Speaker Jayasuriya for the current political situation.
“The other reason for my dissolution of parliament was the behaviour of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. He issued statements saying that he would not recognise the appointment of a new prime minister using my presidential powers.”
He said Jayasuriya’s insistence of having a floor test on the very first day of the parliamentary session was unacceptable.
Jayasuriya, earlier, accused Sirisena of “usurping” the rights of legislators. “I have watched over the last two weeks as the executive branch has seized the rights and usurped the powers of members of parliament who were elected to represent the people,” Jayasuriya said.
“I call upon all public servants to refuse to execute any illegal orders they may receive, no matter from whom,” he said.
Referring to remarks by Sirisena loyalist Sarath Amunugama, Jayasuriya said, “I lament that the purported foreign minister, a highly regarded politician, has falsely alleged that I intended to prevent the president from delivering the statement of government policy when parliament was set to reconvene on November 14. It is on this imaginary premise that the minister suggests that parliament had to be dissolved.”
In another political development in the country on Sunday, new prime minister Rajapaksa left his longtime political party and joined the newly-formed Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP). The move could weaken Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, of which Rajapaksa had been a longtime member.