Sri Lanka president Maithripala Sirisena dismisses parliament

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena

Sirisena signed an official gazette notification dissolving the 225-member Parliament, effective from Saturday.

The President dissolved the parliament in a gamble to pave the way for snap elections to secure a majority for his party in a new government when the President-led UPFA realized that they do not have a majority in the parliament and has not been able to get enough crossover legislators to support them. He would now continue as a caretaker premier until a new parliament meets on January 17.

Sirisena has said he fired Wickremesinghe because the prime minister was trying to implement "a new, extreme liberal political concept by giving more priority for foreign policies and neglecting the local people's sentiment".

The 72-year-old strongman, who ruled Lanka for a decade from 2005, was unexpectedly defeated by his deputy, Sirisena, in the presidential election held in January 2015 with the support from Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP).

Mahinda Rajapaksa's move signalled that he would contest the snap polls, to be held on January 5, under his own party banner and not that of Sirisena's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

Former Sri Lankan president and the man who was sworn in as Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa supported the dissolution, and said, "As leaders, it is our responsibility and obligation to give the people the opportunity to voice their opinions on the future of #SriLanka".

Wickremesinghe insisted his firing is unconstitutional.

Tensions had been building between Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister.

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Leading the way, parliamentarian and Rajapaksa's son Namal Rajapaksa obtained SLPP membership on November 10. There were calls both locally and internationally to convene Parliament to end the impasse.

Under global pressure Sirisena had agreed three times to lift the suspension but changed his mind each time. However, the decision to dissolve the house shows otherwise, observers say.

"You cannot read the constitution in one provision in isolation - you have to read it as a whole, especially when amendments have been brought", he said, adding that "before the 19th amendment, the president could dissolve Parliament at will after one year".

Independent legal experts had told Reuters that parliament could be dissolved only in early 2020, which would be four-and-half-years from the first sitting of the current parliament.

"I have watched over the last two weeks as the executive branch has seized the rights and usurped the powers of members of parliament who were elected to represent the people".

"It's totally unconstitutional", Harsha de Silva, a member of Wickremesinghe's United National Party and a former government minister, said.

India and Western countries have requested that Sirisena act in line with the constitution while they have raised concerns over Rajapaksa's close ties with China.

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