COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, dissolved Parliament and called for new elections in a context of deep political crisis.
An official notification signed by Sirisena announced the dissolution of the Parliament starting from midnight on Friday. He said that the names of the candidates will be called before November 26, and the elections will be held on January 5th. The new Parliament will be convened on 17 January.
Sri Lanka has been through a political crisis since October 26, when Sirisena fired his prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and replaced him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Wickremesinghe has insisted that his dismissal is unconstitutional. He refused to leave his official residence and requested that the Parliament be immediately convened to show support among its members.
Tensions had been built between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, since the president did not approve the economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena also accused Wickremesinghe and another Cabinet member of conspiring to assassinate him, an accusation that Wickremes repeatedly denied.
Sirisena also criticized the investigation of military personnel accused of violating human rights during the long civil war in Sri Lanka against a Tamil separatist group, which ended in 2009.
Sirisena had suspended the Parliament for two weeks in a Wickremesinghe move the supporters said it was designed to buy time to support support. There have been calls both locally and internationally to convene Parliament to end the impasse.
Among the pressures, Sirisena announced that the legislature will be convened on November 14th. He maintained his choice for the prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, with a majority in Parliament. However, the decision to dissolve the house shows otherwise, observers say.
"The dissolution clearly indicates that Mr. Sirisena grossly misjudged and miscalculated the support that he could or could guarantee to show his support in Parliament," said Bharath Gopalaswamy, director of the group of analysts at the Atlantic 39; South Asia, based in New Delhi.
"At the end of the day, he is a victim of his own national crisis".
The Wickremesing camp could challenge Sirisena's move because of the constitutional provisions that state that a parliament can not be dissolved until 4 and a half years after its election. The current Parliament was elected in August 2015.
"It's totally unconstitutional," said Harsha de Silva, a member of the Wickremesinghe National Party and a former minister. "Sirisena has relegated the constitution to toilet paper and we will fight this dictator until the end".
The party has declared in a Twitter message that it will meet the commissioner for the elections to discuss the constitutionality of Sirisena's move.
The US State Department has tweeted that it is deeply concerned about the news that the Sri Lankan parliament will be dissolved, "further deepening the political crisis".
"As a partner in Sri Lanka, we believe that democratic institutions and processes must be respected to ensure stability and prosperity," reads the statement.
Earlier US representative Eliot Engel, the senior Democrat in the Chamber of Foreign Affairs, and two other MPs wrote to Sirisena that actions that circumvent the democratic process could have an impact on the assistance of United States, including a five-year aid package planned by the Millennium Challenge Corporation is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
"We fear that recent actions, if not corrected, will threaten the democratic development of your country and rob progress in recent years," the three MPs said in a letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press.
Rajapaksa indicated what was coming hours before the dissolution in a speech. He said the government must go to the people to confirm that the president made the right decision when he appointed him prime minister.
Associated Press journalist Emily Schmall in New Delhi, India, and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.
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