Defections and crossovers continue to plague the deepening struggle for power in Sri Lanka. It recorded the first reverse crossover on Tuesday when a newly-sworn-in deputy minister in the Maithripala Sirisena-Mahinda Rajapaksa Government resigned from his post in support of the ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Parliamentarian Manusha Nanayakkara, who received the portfolio as deputy minister for foreign employment in the new government, created a complication in the ongoing crisis by resigning from his new post, saying that the appointment of Rajapaksa as prime minister was unconstitutional.
Nanayakkara issued a letter of resignation addressed to President Sirisena saying that from now on he would accept the Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s earlier statement that Wickremesinghe is the legitimate prime minister who has the support of a majority in Parliament.
Speaker Jayasuriya, after days of silence and polite requests to the President calling for a parliamentary session to resolve the stand-off, was seen taking a strong stance on Monday when he issued an official statement recognizing Wickremesinghe as the legitimate prime minister.
Nanayakkara said the President was well aware that the international community did not recognize the new government. He said the international community had stirred his democratic conscience, so he had discussions with his political affiliates and followers and decided not to support the “illegal” and “unconstitutional” new government.
“As the majority is of the opinion that all changes made in the parliament are undemocratic and inconsistent with the traditions of the parliament and as the majority of the parliament have requested that the status that existed before these changes were made shall be accepted, I wish to emphasize that I am compelled to accept the status that existed previously until such time that they and the new political alliance prove their majority in parliament,” he said.
Nanayakkara’s decision came a day after President Sirisena announced that the new government had a majority of 133 MPs and asked citizens not to have any doubts about its stability.
But as of Wednesday, while Nanayakkara had resigned, another five MPs had defected to the new government. That meant, remnants of the coalition government — primarily, the United National Front for Good Governance (UNF) and the United National Party (UNP) — had 103 members in parliament. And, the Sirisena-Rajapaksa Government currently has 104 members, including seven defectors from various parties.
However, the 15 members of the Tamil National Alliance, which has called continuously for parliament to be reconvened, are yet to reveal their hand.
But the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, with one parliamentarian, has announced that it will support the Wickremesinghe administration while the People’s Liberation Front and its six members have claimed that the party will oppose the new government.
President Sirisena addressed crowds gathered at a mass protest near the parliament on Monday, when he was also seen making offensive remarks about the ousted prime minister being homosexual.
“Wickremesinghe did not contribute to fulfil the promises given by the good-governance Government. When it came to taking crucial decisions over the future of the country, senior government leaders were not allowed to participate. Wickremesinghe and his ‘butterfly gang’ took all the decisions,” he claimed.
The president’s remarks were later heavily criticized by the country’s LGBT community, which claimed that he was promoting homophobia and public incitement of homophobic hatred.
A statement containing over 120 signatures condemned Sirisena for his remarks, saying: “We condemn his use of homophobia to amuse his political gallery. By trivializing homophobia in this fashion, President Sirisena should be held responsible for any homophobic incidents that Sri Lankan citizens may experience in the coming days.”
The beginning of the crisis
The political crisis flared on the evening of October 26, when the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) — one of the parties that made up the National Unity Government — decided to leave the ruling coalition. That led to President Sirisena appointing former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new PM, in an unprecedented move.
Sirisena issued Extraordinary Gazette no. 2094/44 appointing Rajapaksa as the new PM, after ousting Wickremesinghe through the issuance of Extraordinary Gazette no 2094/43.
Before this, President Sirisena wrote a letter to Wickremesinghe to inform him that he would be removed, saying he was acting under the provisions of Article 42(4) of the Constitution. But Wickremesinghe condemned the move and said he would continue to act as the legitimate prime minister.
That led to President Sirisena suspending parliament until November 16 through the publication of Gazette no. 2094/45.
However, these moves spurred a massive public outcry and demands from various parties, including the international community, to reconvene parliament. Those calls fell on deaf ears until last week when President Sirisena issued another gazette to reconvene parliament on November 14.
The decision came after he met Speaker Jayasuriya and promised to recall parliament much sooner.
Meanwhile, the Wickremesinghe camp has accused the new government of biding its time seeking to buy the support of MPs to help them gain a majority in parliament.