NEW DELHI: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Parliament late on Friday and call general elections in the first week of January evoked howls of protest not just domestically, but across the world.
Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) said on Saturday it would challenge the decision in court, even as countries like the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia denounced the dissolution and called for stability.
Mangala Samaraweera, finance minister in Wickremesinghe’s sacked cabinet, told reporters that Sirisena had “kicked the constitution in the teeth.”
The US was among the countries that expressed ‘deep concern’. “As a committed partner of Sri Lanka, we believe democratic institutions and processes need to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity.”
New Delhi, however, chose to stay quiet, except for an earlier statement seeking a peaceful political solution, and respect for the constitutional process.
The island nation has been facing a political meltdown after Sirisena suddenly sacked Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister October 26, and replaced him with former President and strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Wickremesinghe refused to step down, and demanded a parliament session for a show of strength. He also refused to vacate his official residence, guarded by a wall of party supporters.
Following growing international pressure, Sirisena twice promised to lift the suspension of parliament, but then changed his mind.
On Friday, when it became apparent that Rajpaksa may not have the numbers to win a parliament showdown, he ordered the dissolution of parliament and called for elections on January 6.
Just before the dissolution, Sirisena also took over the police department by attaching it to his defence ministry.
A senior Indian diplomat who had served in Colombo said, “All that the dissolution does is give Siresena and Rajapaksa time to buy supporters. As for money, it was Rajapaksa who initiated projects like the Hambantota port, which led to Sri Lanka falling into a Chinese debt trap. So we all know where his money is coming from. If he wins, PLA-N (People’s Liberation Army - Navy) warships and submarines will be docking at that port once again.”