Colombo, Dec 7: Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Friday reserved its verdict on a bunch of petitions against President Maithripala Sirisena’s controversial decisions to dissolve Parliament and call for a snap election after sacking prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that triggered a major constitutional crisis in the country.
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The apex court heard 13 petitions for four days continuously and Friday’s hearing was one of the longest sittings of the Supreme Court in the recent history, lawyers said. The island nation has been in a political crisis since October 26 when Sirisena removed Wickremesinghe and installed ex-strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place.
Sirisena later dissolved Parliament, almost 20 months before its term was to end, and ordered snap election. The Supreme Court overturned Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Parliament and halted the preparations for snap polls. It also issued an interim order on November 13 annulling the gazette notification which made Sirisena’s parliamentary sacking temporary illegal. A total of 13 petitions were filed by political parties and civil society groups who claimed that Sirisena’s moves to sack Wickremesinghe and dissolve Parliament are in violation of the Constitution.
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A seven-member bench presided by Chief Justice Nalin Perera on Tuesday began hearing oral submissions on the fundamental rights petitions filed against Sirisena’s gazette notification to dissolve parliament. The court on Friday extended its interim order till it decides on the legality of Sirisena’s move and reserved its judgement for an unspecified date. Earlier this week, the Court of Appeal halted Rajapaksa and his Cabinet from functioning in their positions in response to a case filed by 122 legislators against the disputed government.
Both Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa claim to be the prime ministers. Wickremesinghe says his dismissal is invalid because he still holds a majority in the 225-member Parliament. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has officially conveyed that the House does not recognise Rajapaksa as the legal prime minister until he proved his majority in the House.
The United National Front (UNF) coalition led by Wickeremesinghe has moved three motions of no trust against Rajapaksa. However, he refused to step down. Prior to the crisis, Wickramasinghe’s party UNP had the backing of 106 parliamentarians, while Rajapaksa and Sirisena combine had 95 seats.
Rajapaksa has, so far, failed to prove his majority in Parliament. Wickremesinghe, with the support from the main Tamil party, claims to have the support of more than 113 legislators, required for simple majority.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has 16 seats in the house and JVP has six legislators. Sirisena has said due to sharp personal differences with Wickremesinghe, he would not reappoint him as the prime minister. However, the UNP claims that Sirisena will be left with no other choice as Wickremesinghe would be the man who will command the confidence in the House. Violent scenes were witnessd in Parliament as it went on to approve motions which proved that Rajapaksa lacked majority.