Sri Lanka Parliament demands sacked PM be reinstated

Sri Lanka's ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe attends a press conference in Colombo on Dec 4, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's legislature voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday (Dec 12) to demand the reinstatement of prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, as a bitter power struggle headed for a government shutdown within weeks.

Members of Mr Wickremesinghe's party and their allies voted 117-0 asking President Maithripala Sirisena to restore the status quo prior to Oct 26 when he dismissed his former ally.

"This resolution expressing confidence in me is a vote to defeat the coup of Oct 26," Mr Wickremesinghe told Parliament, referring to his controversial sacking by Mr Sirisena six weeks ago.

Sri Lanka has been trapped in a bitter power feud since the President replaced Mr Wickremesinghe with Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa, a controversial former strongman leader who has failed to secure parliamentary support.

Parliament has twice voted against Mr Rajapaksa, but he has refused to step down. Instead, Mr Rajapaksa and his allies are boycotting Parliament since they do not have a majority in the 225-member assembly.

It was not immediately clear if Wednesday's resolution would be accepted by Mr Sirisena, who has vowed he will not give the job back to Mr Wickremesinghe.

Courts have prevented Mr Rajapaksa and his disputed Cabinet exercising the powers they claim until they can prove their legitimacy. A hearing by the Court of Appeal on Wednesday was put off till Jan 16.

Former finance minister Ravi Karunanayake said the entire public sector will come to a complete standstill from Jan 1 in the absence of a budget for the New Year.

"Unless this Parliament approves a budget for 2019, the government will not be able to spend even one cent from Jan 1," Mr Karunanayake told Parliament.

Officials have expressed similar fears and urged Mr Sirisena to resolve the crisis at the earliest. Sri Lanka's credit ratings have already been cut.

Parliament, dominated by Mr Wickremesinghe and his allies, have also blocked the office of prime minister spending any funds.

The Parliament chamber has witnessed violence in recent weeks as the power struggle dragged on, with Rajapaksa loyalists throwing chilli powder at rivals and smashing furniture.

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