Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

Mahinda Rajapaksa bows out, ending Sri Lanka power struggle

The resolution will lead to ousted Ranil Wickremesinghe returning to the post of prime minister

A supporter of ousted Sri Lanka's prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe holds a flare and shout slogans with other supporters as they celebrate Sri Lanka's Supreme Court ruling outside the Sri Lankan Supreme Court in Colombo on December 13, 2018. Sri Lanka's Supreme Court on December 13 ruled that President Maithripala Sirisena's sacking of parliament last month was illegal, clearing the way for potential impeachment proceedings against him. / AFP / ISHARA S. KODIKARA
A supporter of ousted Sri Lanka's prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe holds a flare and shout slogans with other supporters as they celebrate Sri Lanka's Supreme Court ruling outside the Sri Lankan Supreme Court in Colombo on December 13, 2018. Sri Lanka's Supreme Court on December 13 ruled that President Maithripala Sirisena's sacking of parliament last month was illegal, clearing the way for potential impeachment proceedings against him. / AFP / ISHARA S. KODIKARA

Sri Lanka's crisis looked over on Saturday as the divisive Mahinda Rajapaksa bowed out of a power battle that had crippled the island nation for seven weeks and sent it heading for a possible debt default.

Mr Rajapaksa held a multi-religious service at his home where he signed a letter backing down from the post of prime minister controversially conferred on him on October 26.

Hours after the receiving blessings from the clergy, the 73-year-old ex-president sounded bitter and vowed to make a comeback at local council elections.

epa07232409 Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the signing of his letter of resignation from the Prime Minister's post at his official residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 15 December 2018. Mahinda Rajapaksa has resigned as Sri Lanka's prime minister on 15 December 2018. President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved the 225-member Parliament headed by United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place on 26 October. President Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa called for a snap general election on 05 January 2019. However, the UNP and several civil and other organizations filed as many as 13 petitions before the Supreme Court challenging the dissolution as being unconstitutional. A seven judge-bench of Sri Lanka's Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Gazette notification issued by President Maithripala Sirisena dissolving Parliament was inconsistent with the constitution and such a dissolution could be made only when Parliament completes its four-and-a-half year term. Making a special statement before stepping down, Mahinda Rajapaksa said he does so since the premiership was useless without a general election being held and hence to make way for the President to take future necessary steps. EPA/M.A.PUSHPA KUMARA
Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa signs a letter of resignation as prime minister, ending weeks of crisis that threatened the country. EPA

"There is no doubt at all that the people who stood by us since 2015 will continue to support us in the future as well," he said addressing his close associates. "We will bring the forces opposed to the country down to their knees by organising the people."

His aides said he was returning a fleet of limousines he had used since his disputed appointment.

President Maithripala Sirisena triggered the political turmoil by sacking Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replacing him with his flamboyant former foe, Mr Rajapaksa.

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But Mr Wickremesinghe refused to step down, insisting that his sacking was illegal. The crisis left the Indian Ocean nation of 21 million people with two men claiming the premiership.

Mr Rajapaksa was then defeated in a no-confidence motion on November 14.

However, the following day, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya ruled that he would recognise neither man as prime minister, leaving Sri Lanka effectively without a government.

The country was then heading for a government shutdown as parliament failed to approve spending for 2019 and credit rating agencies downgraded its debt amid fears of a sovereign default.

There were doubts about the country's ability to repay $1.5 billion due to bondholders by January 10 without a legally constituted administration.

Mr Rajapaksa's son Namal had announced on Friday that his father — who as president ended Sri Lanka's civil war in 2009 amid allegations of grave rights abuses — would throw in the towel "to ensure stability".

Mr Rajapaksa's decision came after the Supreme Court confirmed that he could not exercise the powers of a prime minister until he proved his legitimacy, which without enough support in parliament was impossible.

In a major climbdown, Mr Sirisena agreed on Friday to reinstate Mr Wickremesinghe on Sunday despite previously insisting he would never in his lifetime reappoint him as prime minister.

Sri Lanka's members of parliament shake hands with ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (C) during a parliament session in Colombo on December 12, 2018. Sri Lanka's legislature voted overwhelmingly on December 12 to demand the reinstatement of prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, as a bitter power struggle headed for a government shut down within weeks. / AFP / LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI
Sri Lanka's members of parliament shake hands with ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during a parliament session in Colombo. AFP

There was no immediate comment from Mr Sirisena or his office on Saturday.

But an MP from his party, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, told reporters on Friday night that the president agreed to the latest measures to avoid a government shutdown after December 31.

"If the stalemate continued, we would have ended up without a budget for 2019 and the government would not have been able to function," Mr Abeywardena said.

On Wednesday, the legislature had voted overwhelmingly to demand the reinstatement of Mr Wickremesinghe.

The leftist JVP, or the People's Liberation Front, insists that Mr Sirisena should be investigated for orchestrating what they call a coup and that there should also be an impeachment process.

On Thursday Mr Sirisena suffered a major blow when the Supreme Court ruled that he had breached the constitution on November 9 by dissolving parliament and calling early elections.

His sacking of parliament had earlier been suspended, but the legislature descended into farce on multiple occasions with MPs throwing punches, hurling projectiles and chili powder and boycotting proceedings.

Updated: December 15, 2018 05:25 PM

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