Sri Lanka’s prime minister to step down Saturday

Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa
Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa

Sri Lanka’s controversially appointed Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is set to step down on Saturday after just seven weeks in the post amid a political crisis in the country, a spokesman for his party said on Friday.

“Rajapaksa, appointed on October 26, will step down from office on Saturday after addressing the nation,” Lakshman Abeywardena, a former minister, said.

Rajapaksa’s son, Namal Rajapaksa, who is also a member of parliament, confirmed that the prime minister will step down along with his cabinet.

“To ensure stability of the nation, Former President @PresRajapaksa has decided to resign from the Premiership tomorrow,” he posted on Twitter, referencing his father’s Twitter handle.

The move came hours after a Sri Lankan court turned down an appeal to allow the disputed prime minister and his cabinet ministers to carry out their duties, officials said.

Rajapaksa, a former president, was appointed prime minister by President Maithripala Sirisena in a surprising move on October 26, but was subsequently restrained from performing his duties.

The appeal decision came a day after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that a decision by the president to dissolve parliament was unconstitutional.

Sirisena dissolved parliament on November 9, when he was forced to concede that his and Rajapaksa’s party, the United People’s Freedom Alliance, did not have a majority in the 225-seat parliament.

With the resignation of Rajapaksa, the president is likely to offer the position either to former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, or to someone from Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP), which holds the parliamentary majority.

Sirisena had sacked Wickremesinghe on October 26 and replaced him with Rajapaksa, with the UNP calling the move unconstitutional.

The UNP had proved on three occasions, no-confidence votes against Rajapaksa, that it had a majority, but each time they were ignored by Sirisena.

On Wednesday, a vote of confidence in Wickremesinghe was taken, with 117 members voting in favour.

The political crisis has resulted in the disruption of government services and a delay to the presentation of next year’s budget.

Sirisena was largely supported by Wickremesinghe’s UNP in the January 2015 presidential elections and their parties went on to form a coalition government but, in recent months, differences have emerged between the two sides.

The president has accused Wickremesinghe and his party of corruption, of selling state assets to foreign companies and even of planning to assassinate him.

(dpa/NAN)

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