Sri Lankan religious leaders call for end to political standoff

Rule of law needed to resolve constitutional crisis, they say
Sri Lankan religious leaders call for end to political standoff

Sri Lanka's ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe leaves parliament escorted by security personnel and aides in Colombo on Nov. 16. (Photo by Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP)

Sri Lankan religious leaders have appealed for an end to a bitter political crisis that is threatening the island nation's democracy.

The Ven. Ittepane Dhammalankara Thero, Ven. Kotugoda Dhamawasa Thero, Bishop Winston Fernando and Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith released a statement calling on Sri Lankan lawmakers to resolve a constitutional crisis centered on two men claiming to be the country's lawful prime minister.

"Every one of you secured the people's mandate to enter the house of parliament with an assurance of sustaining good governance solely for the development and welfare of the people," said the religious leaders on Nov. 23.

"It is your collective responsibility not to betray this ennobled mandate but to find solutions to the problems faced by the people.

"To take meaningful steps to ensure that supremacy of the rule of law, peace and harmony prevail within the country whilst safeguarding and nurturing the democratic principles of governance much desired by us."

The political crisis erupted unexpectedly on Oct. 26 when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked his coalition partner, the then prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Sirisena, 67, claimed that both he and former defense secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa were targets for an assassination attempt by one of Wickremesinghe's cabinet ministers.

Sirisena appointed ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa, 72, as prime minister. Former strongman Rajapaksa served as a rival candidate to Sirisena in the country's last general election three years ago.

Rajapaksa has been unable to show he has the support of the majority in parliament to legitimately take his new position as prime minister. On two recent occasions 122 of 225 parliamentarians have backed no-confidence votes in Rajapaksa as PM.

Sirisena has refused to accept he has lost the position and the country's political system remains in deadlock. The crisis has resulted in the local currency plunging in value, further affecting what is already a debt-laden economy.

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