PTI (26 October 2018) – Mahinda Rajapaksa staged a dramatic political comeback on October 26, becoming Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister after President Maithripala Sirisena sacked premier Ranil Wickremesinghe. The sacked Prime Minister asserted that he will continue to be the Prime Minister, terming Mr. Rajapaksa’s appointment “unconstitutional”
In a telephonic conversation with a TV station, Mr. Wickremesinghe said, “I will continue to be the Prime Minister. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s appointment is unconstitutional“.
Visuals of the former President taking oath as the premier were released to media and was shown on TV channels. Mr. Rajapaksa, 72, tweeted a photo of him and Sirisena after the swearing in ceremony. “Former #SriLanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa sworn in as new Prime Minister,” he said in the tweet.
The sudden development came after Mr. Sirisena’s broader political front, the United People’s Freedom Alliance, announced that it has decided to quit the current unity government with Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party.
Agriculture Minister and the general secretary of the UPFA Mahinda Amaraweera told reporters that the UPFA decision has been conveyed to Parliament.
Reacting sharply to the development, Minister of Finance and Media Mangala Samaraweera said that the appointment of Mr. Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister is “unconstitutional and illegal“.
“This is an anti democratic coup,” he said in a tweet.
The unity government was formed in 2015 when Mr. Sirisena was elected President with Mr. Wickremesinghe’s support, ending a nearly decade-long rule by Mr. Rajapaksa.
The sudden political development ends an over three-year-old coalition government that was formed by Mr. Sirisena and Mr. Wickremesinghe on a promise to combat corruption and financial irregularities.
Mr. Sirisena, who was Mr. Rajapaksa’s Minister of Health, broke away from him to contest the presidential elections.
Political analysts said Mr. Sirisena’s move to install Mr. Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister could lead to a constitutional crisis as the 19th amendment to the Constitution would not allow the sacking of Mr. Wickremesinghe as the premier without a majority.
The Rajapaksa-Sirisena combine has only 95 seats and is short of a simple majority. Mr. Wickremesinghe’s UNP has 106 seats on its own with just seven short of the majority.
President Sirisena’s party withdrew from the ruling coalition after simmering tensions between him and Mr. Wickremesinghe.
The unity government was thrown into a crisis after Mr. Rajapaksa’s new party pulled off a stunning victory in local elections in February seen as a referendum on the ruling alliance.
Last week, it was reported that Sirisena accused his senior coalition partner the UNP of not taking seriously an alleged conspiracy to assassinate him and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the former Defence Secretary and brother of ex-president Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa.