Sri Lanka plunged into a deeper crisis on Saturday after President Maithripala Sirisena fired the parliament and called for early elections, leaving the country to face another two months of damaging political paralysis.
The political parties representing the majority of the 225-member parliament members have closed ranks to denounce Friday's dissolution as illegal and unconstitutional.
Shortly before dismissing the legislature, Sirisena took over the police department and linked him to his defense ministry. He also took control of the state printer, a crucial institution that publishes decrees and proclamations.
He had already taken control of all state media outlets immediately after dismissing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on October 26th.
Sirisena set the elections for January 5, almost two years ahead of schedule, after it became clear that his designated prime minister – the former president Mahinda Rajapakse – could not prove his majority when the assembly it would be reunited on Wednesday.
Rajapakse, 72, was prime minister for two weeks without ever entering parliament. He would now continue as full-time prime minister until a new parliament meets on 17 January.
A leader of the Rajapakse party, Susil Premajayantha, said that Sirisena has fired the legislature to end the power struggle and allow people to elect a new parliament.
"We now have a transitional government with limited functions," Premajayantha said. "We will conduct free and fair elections".
He accused Prime Minister fired Wick of postponing instability by refusing to leave his official residence, an accusation rejected by him and several other parties that together hold the majority in parliament.
– Power struggle –
Rajapakse and ousted by Wickremesing have been fighting for power for two weeks, while international concern has grown during the mounting turmoil in the strategically important insular nation.
Sirisena signed a decree rejecting the legislature in an attempt to avert any revolt against his actions that included the suspension of parliament for almost three weeks.
Minister of Finance Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera, described the parliamentary looting as a desperate move by Sirisena.
"A desperate president without a majority, now resorts to more desperate measures by illegally dissolving the parliament," said Samaraweera.
"All those who love democracy, decency and the rule of law must now gather around and defeat emerging tyranny".
Rajapakse was still in touch with the nation after his disputed elevation, but at the beginning of Saturday he tried to justify the dissolution.
"… A 'general election will really establish the will of the people and make room for a stable country," he said on Twitter.
There was no immediate comment from Wickremesinghe, but his United National Party (UNP) said he would challenge the firing of Sirisena while some civil society groups were also planning to petition the Supreme Court against this. who consider an illegal action of the executive.
– The US is "deeply worried" –
The United States, the United Nations and the European Union are increasingly worried, and Washington's criticism of Sirisema's move was rapid.
"The United States is deeply concerned by the news that the Sri Lankan parliament will be dissolved, further exacerbating the political crisis," the US State Department said in a statement.
"As a partner in Sri Lanka, we believe that democratic institutions and processes must be respected to ensure stability and prosperity," he said.
The Australian foreign minister expressed concern and said that Sirisena's action "undermines the long democratic tradition of Sri Lanka and poses a risk to its stability and prosperity".
Shortly before dismissing the parliament, Sirisena also let other ministers enter his cabinet. The move was seen as giving them access to state resources in the run-up to the January vote.
The Left People's Liberation Front (JVP), which regards the dismissal of Wickremesinghe as unconstitutional, has accused Sirisena of trying to consolidate its power of conquest.
"Dissolving the parliament right now is illegal and goes against the constitution," JVP general secretary Tilvin Silva told reporters.
Sirisena suspended the parliament to allow herself more time to process the defections, but failed, according to the opposition.
Several lawmakers said that millions of dollars were offered to change loyalty and at least eight had already risen alongside the president.
Under international pressure, Sirisena had agreed three times to lift the suspension, but each time he changed his mind.
Wickremesinghe was late Thursday thanking his supporters in a Facebook video for not letting Sri Lanka be "immersed in the darkness of dictatorship".
It was not immediately clear whether he would have left Temple Trees official residence after the dissolution of parliament.
The power struggle on the island of 21 million people has paralyzed much of the administration, according to lawmakers on both sides of the dispute.
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