Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa to step down from disputed prime minister position

Sri Lanka's Mahinda Rajapaksa will step down from his disputed position of premier on Dec 15, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's strongman leader Mahinda Rajapaksa will step down from his disputed position of premier, his son said on Friday (Dec 14), signalling an end to a crippling seven-week long power struggle.

Mr Rajapaksa's legislator son Namal Rajapaksa said he will quit on Saturday "to ensure stability of the nation", after the Supreme Court ordered that he should not exercise the powers of the office he has claimed since Oct 26.

Mr Namal Rajapaksa said they will join a coalition with President Maithripala Sirisena who triggered the political crisis on Oct 26 by sacking Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replacing him with former foe Mr Rajapaksa.

The latest decision of Mr Rajapaksa to back down came as the Supreme Court ruled that he and his purported Cabinet should not exercise the powers of the office they claim until he could prove his legitimacy.

The court ruling also meant that the country was effectively without a government and heading for a shutdown in the absence of Parliament voting for a budget for 2019.

In another blow to Mr Sirisena, the highest court ruled on Thursday that his sacking of Parliament on Nov 9 was illegal and cancelled a snap election he had called for Jan 5.

Mr Rajapaksa failed to prove his majority in Parliament and was twice defeated in no-confidence motions on Nov 14 and 16, but refused to step down.

Mr Wickremesinghe also refused to step down since Oct 26, maintaining that his sacking was illegal.

That issue is currently being canvassed before courts. Political sources said Mr Sirisena was likely to invite Mr Wickremesinghe to form a new government over the weekend and end the power vacuum.

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