The President of Sri Lanka dissolved parliament on Friday and called a snap election for January 5, in a move aimed at ending a political standoff that has disrupted its capital, Colombo, for weeks.
Last month, President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister and appointed controversial former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which 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.
Just before Sirisena’s announcement on Friday night, Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP), attempted to call for a “floor test” in parliament to measure how much support Sirisena maintained.
UNP Chairman Kabir Hashim told CNN: “They do not have the numbers to show a 113 majority in the 225-seat Parliament.”
Government spokesperson Mahinda Samarasinghe told CNN, however, that there was no provision in parliamentary rules to have a “floor vote” at such short notice.
Sirisena signed the decree dismissing Sri Lanka’s 225-member parliament just hours after his party admitted the party did not have a sufficient number of votes to elect Rajapaksa.
He said in a statement that a new parliament will be convened on January 17, after a general election is held on January 5. Sirisena’s move is seen as an attempt to buy himself more time to gain the required backing for his preferred candidate.
Sirisena’s move is nevertheless set to be challenged by his opponents in the Supreme Court on Monday, with Tilvin Silva, the general secretary of the leftist People’s Liberation Front (JVP), describing the action as “illegal.”
He said: “It is dangerous if someone goes for an election after obtaining power through unconstitutional means.
“If an election was announced under this unconstitutional government, it will be clearly construed as a part of this political coup.”
Sirisena’s decision also drew sharp criticism from various international politicians and agencies, with many expressing “deep concern.”
The US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, an agency within the State Department, stated on Twitter: “The US is deeply concerned by news the Sri Lanka Parliament will be dissolved, further deepening the political crisis.
“As a committed partner of Sri Lanka, we believe democratic institutions and processes need to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity.”
Mark Field, the UK’s minister of state for Asia and the Pacific, added: “Concerned by news that Sri Lanka’s Parliament has been dissolved days before it was due to be reconvened.”
“As a friend of Sri Lanka, the UK calls on all parties to uphold the constitution and respect democratic institutions and processes.”
Violence erupted 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.