Sri Lankan president sacks parliament

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena Friday ordered the immediate dismissal of parliament, clearing the way for a snap election 10 months ahead of schedule.


President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved the legislature “with effect from midnight today” in an official proclamation and said he would summon the new parliament to sit on September 1.

The president decreed that elections would be held across the island on August 17, with candidates given a week ending July 13 to file nomination papers, according to the official gazette notification.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has pressed for early elections to increase the majority of his United National Party (UNP), which sat in opposition until Sirisena’s victory in January’s polls.

Wickremesinghe’s deputy, Harsha de Silva, said the UNP welcomed the election as an opportunity to increase the party’s strength in the legislature and ensure stability.

“Once the new government is established we will have our policies spelt out and it will be good for everybody and for investment confidence,” de Silva said.

The toppling of strongman Mahinda Rajapakse, who had ruled for almost a decade, led to a minority government which was unable to implement its legislative reforms without the support of the opposition.

But Sirisena inherited the outgoing parliament from his autocratic predecessor, who still controlled a loyal band of lawmakers who repeatedly blocked most of the reforms, including fiscal policy moves.

However, Sirisena managed to restore the two-term limit on the presidency which Rajapakse had removed in 2010 and also reduce the presidential term and the life of a parliament to five years, down from six.

The parliament that will be elected in August cannot be sacked by the president for four and a half years. Previously, a president could dismiss the assembly after it completed one year of its full six-year term.

Wickremesinghe had also faced a no-trust resolution initiated by the opposition, which commanded a majority in the 225-member assembly and would have remained until April 2016 if not for the dissolution.

UNP supporters burst firecrackers in cities across the country as local media broadcast the news of the parliament’s dissolution.

The opposition had been resisting such a move, but opposition leader Dinesh Gunawardena put on a brave face and welcomed the decision saying the minority government was not able to provide stability.

“The country was facing an economic crisis because the minority government was not able to get any bills approved,” Gunawardena told reporters. “Therefore we welcome the president’s decision.”

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told reporters Wednesday that the UNP government favoured a snap election to increase its majority.

He said a new government was needed to bring about stability in the legislature and also address the ethnic reconciliation that Sirisena has promised.

Sri Lanka has said it will set up a domestic mechanism to investigate alleged war crimes by its troops while crushing Tamil Tiger rebels six years ago.

Samaraweera said a stable government was needed to bring about legislative reforms to allow accountability as well as reconciliation in a country emerging from decades of ethnic war, which claimed 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009.