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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Sri Lanka parliament to meet in showdown between rival PMs

The South Asian island remains locked in a bitter power struggle after sacking of incumbent PM

Armed Sri Lanka Police Special Task Force personnel and unarmed policemen stand guard in front of the Supreme Court in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 13 November 2018. EPA
Armed Sri Lanka Police Special Task Force personnel and unarmed policemen stand guard in front of the Supreme Court in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 13 November 2018. EPA

Sri Lanka's parliament will meet under tight security Wednesday, after the top court ruled its dissolution illegal and opened the door to a vote on which of two rival prime ministers has the support to rule.

Sri Lanka has been locked in a power struggle since the president sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on October 26 and replaced him with former strongman president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court overruled President Maithripala Sirisena's dissolution of parliament, and halted preparations for a snap election, in a major boost for the ousted prime minister.

Mr Wickremesinghe is confident he can command a majority and wants a vote on the floor of the 225-member assembly to determine the legitimacy of the government installed by presidential diktat.

"Speaker Karu Jayasuriya ordered the police to ensure that MPs have free access to parliament," a spokesman for the Speaker said. "There will be tight security."

Thousands of armed police have been deployed along the key approach roads to parliament, which is located on a man-made lake island, with several anti-riot units on stand by.

Parliament officials fear that supporters of Mr Rajapaksa's party may try to stop legislators getting to parliament.

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However, by early Wednesday there were no large crowds and only small pockets of Mr Wickremesinghe supporters gathered near the parliament complex.

Mr Rajapaksa's party was divided Tuesday on facing a test in parliament. His legislator son Namal Rajapaksa said they will attend the legislature, but other party seniors said they would not.

Mr Sirisena sacked the legislature after his party admitted that they did not have an absolute majority despite engineering the defections of eight legislators from Mr Wickremesinghe's party.

Since then, at least two legislators have ditched Mr Rajapaksa and joined Mr Wickremesinghe's UNP party which insists it has a comfortable majority in the House.

Mr Wickremesinghe, who insists he is still the prime minister, has refused to vacate the official Temple Trees residence which is a symbol of state power in the island.

The power struggle has crippled the work of the administration, according to lawmakers on both sides.