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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Sri Lanka president considers backing down in crisis over parliament

The country has been in crisis since Maithripala Sirisena replaced the prime minister last month

Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena speaks in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 25, 2018. Reuters
Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena speaks in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 25, 2018. Reuters

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is considering dropping an attempt to dissolve parliament, sources close to the president said, possibly easing weeks of political deadlock.

The country has been in a crisis since Mr Sirisena replaced Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with Mahinda Rajapaksa last month, and then issued an order dissolving parliament and called for a general election.

The sources said the president may now rescind the order, effectively pre-empting a court ruling that they expect to overturn his decision anyway.

Sri Lanka's top court stayed the dissolution order pending a hearing on its constitutionality that starts on Tuesday, allowing parliament to resume meeting.

Mr Rajapaksa, a former president, has lost two confidence votes in parliament but has refused to resign.

"There is a possibility of withdrawing the gazette," said a source in regular discussion with Mr Sirisena, referring to the official announcement by which the president dissolved parliament. "I have no doubt that the Supreme Court would say that dissolution was wrong."

A spokesman for Mr Sirisena, Dharmasri Ekanayake, said he was unaware of any such plans.

A second source in Mr Sirisena's party said the president was looking for a "dignified exit" by withdrawing the dissolution order as the court was unlikely to rule in his favour.

The Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision as early as December 7.

Foreign countries have yet to recognise the new government. The impasse has also pushed the island's currency to record lows, caused turmoil on its stock and bond markets, and raised fears it may not be able to service debts to finance reconstruction following a 26-year civil war that ended in 2009.

Mr Rajapaksa is seen as a hero by many among Sri Lanka’s Buddhist majority for ending a bloody war with Tamil rebels in 2009, but has been accused by diplomats and international rights groups of human rights abuses. He has denied the charges.

Mr Sirisena came to power in 2015 on a pledge to uphold democracy and stamp out corruption, but his popularity has been hit by a crisis many say he triggered because of his personal differences with former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

The crisis deepened on Friday when parliament voted to halt payment of ministers' salaries — a move to put pressure on the disputed government of Mr Rajapaksa. Supporters of Mr Rajapaksa boycotted the vote saying it was illegal.

Separately on Friday, the country's appeal court began a hearing on a petition signed by 122 politicians that challenged Mr Rajapaksa's authority to hold office after he lost the no confidence votes this month.

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Read more:

Sri Lanka's Tamils fear bloody return of 'Lord of the Rings' Mahinda Rajapaksa

Sri Lankan press freedom crushed following Mahinda Rajapaksa’s return

Colombo on edge as Sri Lanka faces constitutional crisis

Inside Temple Trees: Prime minister’s bungalow becomes Sri Lanka’s seed of resistance

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