Sri Lanka slides into political turmoil

Political parties and activists take legal action after president dissolves parliament and calls snap election
Sri Lanka slides into political turmoil

Civic rights activists stage a demonstration over Sri Lanka's political crisis in front of Maradana Railway Station on Nov. 9. They accuse President Maithripala Sirisena of breaking the constitution by dissolving parliament. (Photo by Quintus Colombage/

Civil society organizations and political parties in Sri Lanka have filed petitions at the Supreme Court against the dissolution of parliament by President Maithripala Sirisena.

The country is in political turmoil after Sirisena dissolved parliament on Nov. 9, only five days before it was due to reconvene, and called a general election on Jan. 5, 2019.

Sirisena sacked his coalition partner, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, on Oct. 26 and appointed ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa as his successor, triggering a constitutional crisis.

Former strongman Rajapaksa, 72, served as a rival candidate to Sirisena, 67, in the country's last general election three years ago.

Twelve civic rights organizations and several political parties have filed petitions against what they say is the unconstitutional dissolution of parliament.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the president's proclamation is invalid.

"The president's actions represent a flagrant attempt by the executive to suppress the functioning of parliament. The 19th amendment leaves no room for doubt that the president's actions are legally, politically and morally invalid," he told after filing a petition at court on Nov. 12.

"This has unnecessarily caused great uncertainty and put people at risk of potential political violence amid escalating turmoil. It has been a reprehensible violation of the very principles of democratic accountability the president campaigned for and was elected on."

Saravanamuttu called on citizens to stand firm against "blatant and dangerous abuses of power" and to demand their democratic rights and the upholding of the constitution.

International and local pressure is growing for Sirisena to resolve the political crisis.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres called for Sri Lanka to respect democratic processes and institutions and to resolve differences in accordance with the rule of law and due process.

The European Union and the U.S. denounced the dissolution and said the president's move had deepened the political and economic crisis in the country.

Shreen Saroor, a rights campaigner who has been engaged in reconciliation work for war-affected Tamil and Muslim communities, filed a petition on Nov. 12 and said she felt her constitutional rights had been violated.

"The president has breached the constitution, not for the first time but the second time," said Saroor, a Muslim.

"The country faces problems of inflation, development and reconciliation. Civic rights activists did very hard work to bring the 19th amendment to the constitution but now the president has violated it."

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Legal experts said that, according to the constitution, parliament can be dissolved only in early 2020.

Lawyers for Democracy condemned the dissolution for plunging Sri Lanka into deep chaos.

Just before he dissolved parliament, Sirisena issued a notification bringing the police under the Ministry of Defence, which is controlled by him.

The Rajapaksa regime was criticized for human rights violations during the 26-year civil war against Tamil rebels.

Addressing the nation on Nov. 11, Sirisena said the lack of a majority in parliament, the trading off of parliamentarians and the speaker's action after appointing the new prime minister led him to dissolve parliament and halt bloodshed. He asked everyone to support a free and fair election.

Former speaker Karu Jayasuriya said he could not accept Rajapaksa as the prime minister. He said the executive branch had seized the rights and powers of parliamentarians who were elected to represent the people.

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