Chaos in Sri Lanka Parliament, again

Sri Lankan police trying to escort Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya into the assembly hall in Colombo yesterday as violence returned to the legislature for a second day running.
Sri Lankan police trying to escort Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya into the assembly hall in Colombo yesterday as violence returned to the legislature for a second day running. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MPs throw the book at Speaker as they try to disrupt proceedings

COLOMBO • Sri Lanka's Parliament descended into chaos for a second day yesterday as lawmakers supporting newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa threw books, chilli paste and water bottles at the Speaker to try to disrupt a second no-confidence motion.

The vote went ahead anyway and for a second time lawmakers turned against Mr Rajapaksa and his new government, possibly opening the way for the return of Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister.

Mr Wickremesinghe was removed by President Maithripala Sirisena late last month and replaced with Mr Rajapaksa, plunging the country into political turmoil.

''We have the majority,'' Mr Wickremesinghe told reporters. ''We can form our government and we will act accordingly.''

Mr Sirisena is now faced with the choice of either reappointing the man he kicked out only a few weeks ago or allowing the crisis to continue, with potentially damaging consequences for the economy.

Mr Rajapaksa's supporters poured on to the floor of Parliament, surrounding the Speaker's chair, and demanded the arrest of two lawmakers from Mr Wickremesinghe's party for allegedly bringing knives into the house on Thursday.

An MP from Mr Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna party sat on Speaker Karu Jayasuriya's chair, surrounded by more than 20 lawmakers, delaying the start of proceedings.

Mr Rajapaksa's loyalists then tried to prevent Mr Jayasuriya from sitting on a second chair brought in by police. And when Mr Jayasuriya started calling out names to know whom the MPs supported, Mr Rajapaksa's supporters threw books and chilli paste at him.

Parliament on Wednesday passed the first no-confidence motion against Mr Rajapaksa and his government with the backing of 122 of 225 lawmakers in a voice vote, followed by a signed document.

 
 

Mr Sirisena had not accepted that result, calling for the second vote. Mr Sirisena dissolved Parliament last week and ordered elections to break the deadlock.

But the Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a suspension of that decree until it had heard petitions challenging the move as unconstitutional.

Sources close to the leadership have said Mr Sirisena's decision to sack Mr Wickremesinghe came after the prime minister's party rejected the president's request to back him for a second five-year term in the 2020 presidency.

They had also split over whether to back Chinese or Indian investors in various projects, the sources said.

India and Western countries have requested that Mr Sirisena act in line with the Constitution while raising concerns over Mr Rajapaksa's close ties with China.

Beijing loaned Sri Lanka billions of dollars for infrastructure projects when Mr Rajapaksa was president between 2005 and 2015.

Tourism accounts for nearly 5 per cent of the economy and is a key main foreign exchange earner, along with the garment and tea industries, and remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad.

REUTERS
 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2018, with the headline ' Chaos in Sri Lanka Parliament, again'. Print Edition | Subscribe