Posted on: The New York Times | October 27th, 2018
Authors: Dharisha Bastians, Maria Abi-Habib


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — President Mathripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka on Saturday suspended Parliament for two weeks as he sought to shore up support for unseating the country’s prime minister,escalating a political crisis.

Mr. Sirisena suspended Parliament after ousting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday, a move many lawmakers and government ministers denounced as unconstitutional. Mr. Sirisena swore in as prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, a popular former president who was accused of human rights abuses and corruption during a decade in power.

Mr. Wickremesinghe struck a defiant tone, claiming he was still prime minister. “Convene Parliament, and I will prove it,” he said.

By Saturday afternoon, many lawmakers were vowing to stick by Mr. Wickremesinghe, demanding that a formal count be taken in Parliament to determine who held a majority in the house. That’s when Mr. Sirisena announced that he was suspending Parliament. He also dismissed the leaders of several government institutions, replacing them with loyalists.

As of 5 p.m. local time, Mr. Wickremesinghe remained in office at Temple Trees — the official state residence of the prime minister — where he briefed diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom and more on the political developments.

Addressing a news briefing earlier in the day, he pledged to leave office if it was proved that he did not hold the majority in the house. The dispute could be resolved peacefully in Parliament, and there was no need to plunge the country into political crisis, Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

But frontliners in Mr. Rajapaksa’s party have warned Mr. Wickremesinghe that they will give him until Sunday morning to leave the official prime ministerial residence unless he wanted the public to “force him out.”

To clinch a majority in Parliament, Mr. Sirisena needs to secure just over half of the 225 seats in the house to form a new government with Mr. Rajapaksa’s party. A tally on Saturday suggested they held only 98 seats.

But Namal Rajapaksa, a lawmaker and the son of the former president, said by telephone that the numbers were in their favor.

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