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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Sri Lanka's parliament bars Mahinda Rajapaksa from using state funds

Vote undermines disputed prime minister's claim to have majority support

Mahinda Rajapaksa arrives for a meeting with supporting MPs at the parliamentary complex in Colombo on November 29, 2018. AP Photo
Mahinda Rajapaksa arrives for a meeting with supporting MPs at the parliamentary complex in Colombo on November 29, 2018. AP Photo

Sri Lanka's parliament on Thursday voted to bar disputed prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa from using state funds after he lost two no-confidence votes, in an escalation of the country's political crisis.

The motion was passed with 123 votes in the 225-member parliament as Mr Rajapaksa's supporters boycotted the proceedings for a third day, accusing parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya of bias and breaching parliamentary rules.

The passage of the motion was a setback for Mr Rajapaksa because it demonstrated that a majority of MPs oppose the former president, who ruled Sri Lanka from 2005 to 2015.

The country has been in a political crisis since October 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Mr Rajapaksa. Both claim to be the legitimate office holder, with Mr Wickremesinghe saying he has majority support in parliament and his firing was invalid. Mr Rajapaksa has moved into the prime minister's office, while Mr Wickremesinghe has refused to leave the premier's official residence.

Parliament has passed two no-confidence motions against Mr Rajapaksa and the speaker has declared that he is no longer prime minister and his government has been dissolved. But Mr Rajapaksa continues to function as prime minister with the backing of Mr Sirisena, who has said proper procedures were not followed in the dismissed the no-confidence votes.

Ravi Karunanayake, an MP from Mr Wickremesinghe's party who presented the motion, said parliament had full control over public finance and the secretary to the prime minster had no authority to approve any expenditures from state funds.

During the no-confidence motions two weeks ago, rival politicians exchanged blows in parliament and those supporting Mr Rajapaksa threw books, chairs and chilli powder mixed with water to try to block the proceedings. Amid the disturbance, the speaker resorted to voice votes.

Both Mr Sirisena and Mr Rajapaksa rejected the results of the votes, saying important issues should not be decided by voice. Mr Sirisena has said he will only accept a vote taken by name or through the electronic voting system.

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

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Mr Sirisena served as health minister when Mr Rajapaksa was president. In 2014, he joined hands with opposition parties and defeated Mr Rajapaksa in the 2015 presidential election. His decision to appoint Mr Rajapaksa as prime minister astonished many.

Mr Rajapaksa is considered a hero by some in the ethnic Sinhalese majority for ending a long civil war by crushing ethnic Tamil rebels. However, his time in power was marred by allegations of wartime atrocities, corruption and nepotism.

Tensions had been building between Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Mr Sirisena has also accused Mr Wickremesinghe and another cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him, a charge Mr Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied.

On Sunday, Mr Sirisena said he would not appoint Mr Wickremesinghe as prime minister even if he controls a majority in parliament.

Mr Wickremesinghe's party has criticised Mr Sirisena's stance, saying he should act within the constitution and that it does not provide for personal vendettas.

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Beyond the Headlines podcast: A tale of two prime ministers in Sri Lanka

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