Sri Lankan lawmakers have passed a no-confidence motion against the country’s new Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, declaring his appointment “void and invalid” amid raucous scenes in the country’s Parliament.
Supporters of Rajapaksa refused to recognize the vote as legitimate, plunging the country deeper into crisis, as fears grow that the political dispute could spill into wider instability.
The move follows the shock decision last month by President Maithripala Sirisena to sack Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister, and replace him with controversial former strongman President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The announcement triggered protests and violence leaving one person dead.
Wickremesinghe denounced Sirisena’s attempt to remove him from office and refused to leave the official prime minister’s residence, claiming the president does not have the power to take such action.
Sirisena had attempted to prevent a vote of no-confidence by dissolving Parliament until December 7, however, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court overturned the president’s controversial decision and ordered an interim order, paving the way for fresh elections.
In a move that showed that he was potentially softening his hard stance, Sirisena invited his ousted Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, leaders of his party and those associated for talks Wednesday evening.
Spokesman Mahinda Samarasinghe declined to comment on the meeting, but told CNN: “The President will act constitutionally and within the framework of the law of the country.”
The passing of the no-confidence motion comes as a major blow to Sirisena, demonstrating that his appointment of Rajapaksa does not have the majority backing of the 225 seat Parliament.
Passed by voice, not by name
Contrary to the usual practice, notice of the motion was given Wednesday morning and taken up for discussion immediately after.
However, such was the commotion inside the House Wednesday, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya was prevented from taking the vote by name, as is standard, and instead forced to take a vote by voice.
The resolution, which was passed by a majority, was moved by left wing Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party leader Anura Kumara Dissanayaka and law maker Vijitha Herath.
The United National Party of ousted Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, the Tamil National Alliance and smaller Muslim parties all supported the no-confidence motion.
Three newly sworn cabinet ministers and a state minister also crossed over to the opposition benches in support. Both Rajapaksa, as well as his ousted predecessor Wickremesinghe were present during the vote.
Instability in Colombo
Violence erupted in the capital at the end of October when crowds loyal to the President attempted to prevent the recently deposed petroleum minister Arjuna Ranatunga from entering a government building in Colombo.
As crowds surged around Ranatunga, a former Sri Lankan cricket captain, the official’s bodyguards opened fire, killing one person and injuring three others.
Ranatunga subsequently claimed that his bodyguards opened fire because the crowd was “trying to kill” him.
One bodyguard was nevertheless taken into custody and an investigation is underway, police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekera confirmed.