Sri Lanka appeared to have ground to a political halt on Thursday with the Speaker of parliament saying there was no functioning prime minister or cabinet after Wednesday’s no-confidence vote.
His comments came after weeks of political turmoil in the island, off the southeast coast of India, culminating in noisy chaos of the floor of parliament on Thursday.
Parliament passed the no-confidence motion against recently appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government on Wednesday, with the backing of 122 lawmakers from the 225-member legislature in a voice vote followed by a signed document.
But President Maithripala Sirisena, in a letter to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, said he could not accept the no-confidence vote as it appeared to have ignored the constitution, parliamentary procedure and tradition.
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“We expect the Speaker to be an independent speaker and not a close friend of your party or the West,” Rajapaksa told parliament. “We want a general election.”
He also alleged the previous government led by ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s was corrupt.
“According to the no-confidence vote held yesterday, there is no prime minister or cabinet of ministers as of now as all those posts are invalidated by the vote,” Jayasuriya told parliament.
Sirisena, who triggered the crisis by firing Wickremesinghe and naming Rajapaksa to the job late last month, dissolved parliament last week and ordered elections as a way to break the deadlock.
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But the Supreme Court ordered a suspension of that decree on Tuesday until it had heard petitions challenging the move as unconstitutional.
Soon after his speech, Rajapaksa’s supporters poured on to the floor of parliament and disrupted proceedings.
Then MPs from both sides gathered close to the Speaker’s chair with a lot of shouting and hooting. The turmoil went on for almost 20 minutes after which the Speaker, failing to bring the house to order, left parliament without making any statement.
After a meeting with party leaders, the Speaker agreed to convene the next parliament session on Wednesday, media reported.
Mahinda Samarasinghe, a Rajapaksa supporter, criticized the Speaker for inviting foreign envoys to witness the proceedings, saying he was trying to destroy the perception of parliament.
Rajapaksa, under whose rule Sri Lanka achieved its 2009 victory in a decades-long conflict against rebels from the Tamil minority, is seen as a hero by many among Sri Lanka’s Buddhist majority. He has been accused by diplomats of human rights abuses during the war, which he denies.