Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s move to sack Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has plunged the island nation into a constitutional crisis, with Mr Wickremesinghe still refusing to leave the prime minister’s official residence, Temple Trees, in Colombo.
“I am the prime minister,” Mr Wickremesinghe told NDTV, days after the president named former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse to take his place. “According to the constitution, the person who commands the confidence of parliament is the prime minister.”
Mr Wickremesinghe said unless he fails a floor test, he will continue to be the prime minister. “Sri Lanka at the moment has no government. No one knows what the legal situation is,” Mr Wickremesinghe told NDTV when pointed out that the country has two prime ministers now.
The president had suspended parliament until November 16 in the hours after the sacking last Friday, deepening the crisis which led the parliament speaker to warn of a “bloodbath” unless a vote is held. One activist has already been killed in fallout from the tensions. The Sri Lankan crisis has put the whole country on edge and threatened to polarise voters.
According to the latest count, Mr Wickremesinghe has 104 parliamentarians in the 225-seat chamber while Mr Rajapakse and Mr Sirisena together have 99. A majority of the 22 remaining Members of Parliament are expected to back Mr Wickremesinghe, news agency AFP reported. “I have the numbers,” Mr Wickremesinghe said.
The president cited a threat of assassination as the reason for his sacking, which Mr Wickremesinghe said was clearly an excuse as there was no evidence. “He would have told me or the cabinet if there was some evidence,” Mr Wickremesinghe said.
On whether news reports about India’s spy agency RAW having a hand in the alleged assassination plot, Mr Wickremesinghe told NDTV, “There was an insinuation (by the president)… That’s how many members of the cabinet construed it… Maybe he said it in the heat of the moment, people say various things in the heat of the moment.” India has denied the allegations. “The government of Sri Lanka says there was no involvement of India, that’s the position of Sri Lanka,” Mr Wickremesinghe added.
India and China are closely watching the impasse between the two contending prime ministers to see who will take the lead and add to their own geopolitical interest. Less than a month ago a pro-Chinese leader was defeated in the presidential elections in Maldives, where India and China have been eyeing to expand trade and influence.
India and Sri Lanka has signed a memorandum of understanding to develop the eastern part of Colombo port, a project that Mr Wickremesinghe has backed since 2016. However, the Sri Lankan minister of ports recently proposed that the island nation go with another proposal.