Sri Lanka lawmakers linked to disputed PM boycott Parliament

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan lawmakers supporting disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa boycotted Parliament for a second day Tuesday, accusing the speaker of bias during a political crisis that has engulfed the island nation for nearly a month.

President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct. 26 and appointed Rajapaksa. Both claim to be the legitimate officeholder, with Wickremesinghe saying he has majority support in Parliament and his firing was invalid.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya announced last week that Sri Lanka has no prime minister or government after Parliament passed no-confidence motions against Rajapaksa. Both Sirisena and Rajapaksa have refused to accept the results of the motions, saying proper procedures were not followed. Sirisena has said he will only accept a vote taken by name or through the electronic voting system.

When Parliament met Tuesday, Rajapaksa loyalists did not enter the chamber and accused Jayasuriya of violating parliamentary traditions and being partial to Wickremesinghe. Jayasuriya was elected to Parliament from Wickremesinghe’s United National Party.

Nimal Siripala de Silva, a lawmaker loyal to Rajapaksa, said they would boycott parliamentary sessions unless Jayasuriya follows traditions and rules.

Rajapaksa loyalists also boycotted Parliament last week and during their absence lawmakers opposed to Rajapaksa won control of a key committee setting Parliament’s agenda, dealing a severe blow to his leadership.

Parliament has become the center of the political crisis. During the no-confidence motions against Rajapaksa two weeks ago, rival lawmakers exchanged blows, and those supporting Rajapaksa threw books, chairs and chili powder mixed with water to try to block the proceedings. Amid the disturbances, Jayasuriya resorted to voice votes.

Rajapaksa rejected the results of the votes, saying important issues should not be decided by voice. He also insisted the speaker had no authority to remove him. Lawmakers opposed to Rajapaksa say his government is illegal.

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

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

On Sunday, Sirisena said he will not appoint Wickremesinghe as prime minister even if he controls a majority in Parliament.

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