Sri Lankan MPs attend a meeting with parliamentary Speaker Karu Jayasuriya at the Parliament Building in Colombo. Photo: AFP/Lakruwan Wanniarachchi
Sri Lankan MPs attend a meeting with parliamentary Speaker Karu Jayasuriya at the Parliament Building in Colombo. Photo: AFP/Lakruwan Wanniarachchi

The crisis in Sri Lanka deepened on Wednesday as Parliament voted out the bitterly disputed government of former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse, removing one controversial figure but leaving the country in a power vacuum.

A no-confidence motion was voted on after the Supreme Court stayed the dissolution of the government of Ranil Wikeremesinghe. The apex court had also stayed the snap elections, forcing the no-confidence motion.

The no-confidence motion against the hastily sworn in Prime Minister Rajapaksa was passed in a voice vote. Pandemonium ensued after the no-confidence motion. The Parliamentary session was limited to less than one hour in an intense atmosphere.

In a chaotic session, the 72-year-old Rajapakse and his legislator son Namal walked out of the red-carpeted chamber just before speaker Karu Jayasuriya called for a vote.

This forced Parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya to take a voice vote. Speaker Jayasuriya issued three warnings to the House, calling for order before going ahead with the voice vote. He subsequently suspended the session until November 15.

Following the suspension, party members voiced opposing views on the no-confidence motion. The United National Party, the JVP and the Tamil National Alliance said the vote was taken up and passed. However, the United People’s Freedom Alliance and the Rajapaksa camp denied it ever happened.

Former Member of Parliament from the United National Party Sagala Ratnayaka tweeted: “Unable to take vote [No Confidence Motion] by name. Show of hands. Speaker declares that @fakePM doesn’t have majority.”

The opposition leader of the Parliament, R Sampanthan of the Tamil National Alliance, claimed the motion was passed with a vast majority.

Government MP Thilanga Sumathipala, however, denied this, saying: “There was no vote, we don’t accept it.” Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena claimed the vote could not be accepted as it did not take place electronically.

A motion signed by 122 MPs was handed to the speaker and said they had no confidence in the government led by Prime Minister Rajapaksa. The motion had been signed by 102 UNP and UNF MPs, six from the People’s Liberation Front and 14 from the TNA.

According to AFP, shortly after the collapse of Rajapakse’s administration, one of his ministers, Wasantha Senanayake, switched to Wickremesinghe’s side. Three other MPs from Rajapakse’s side defected to the UNP just before the vote.

Sirisena sacked the legislature on Friday shortly after an admission that Rajapakse did not have a majority in the assembly.

The ongoing constitutional crisis is expected to intensify.

An interim injunction was issued by the Supreme Court on the Election Commission preventing action being taken regarding a general election until December 7.

The Court also ordered objections to be filed between November 19 and 26 in connection with the petitions and granted permission for 11 petitions to be taken up for hearings on December 4, 5 and 6.

Attorney General and the president’s counsel Jayantha Jayasuriya appeared for the President. Thirteen parties filed petitions challenging the dissolution of Parliament by the president. These petitions named the President, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Election Commission and its members as the respondents.

Later, five parties made submissions about the petitions, claiming the gazette could not be challenged before the law.

The current developments have given a breather to Wikremesinghe, but Rajapakse is unlikely to give up easily. The last word on the current constitutional crisis is yet to be written.

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