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Sri Lanka’s Tamil Party to vote against appointed PM, amid allegations of ‘buying’ law makers

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — An ethnic minority Tamil party in Sri Lanka said Saturday that it will support a no-confidence motion to be brought against the country’s former strongman whose controversial appointment as prime minister has plunged the country into a political crisis.

Sri Lanka’s newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa suffered this setback in his power struggle with a deposed rival after a coalition representing the country’s Tamil minority pledged to back a motion of no-confidence against him.

The Tamil National Alliance’s announcement comes as divergent political parties in Parliament try to thwart Mahinda Rajapaksa from strengthening his position as prime minister. The party said in its statement that Rajapaksa’s appointment and President Maithripala Sirisena’s suspension of Parliament was undemocratic.

In the statement, the party accused Rajapaksa’s government of offering money and ministerial posts to “induce” opposition lawmakers to cross over. A Tamil National Alliance lawmaker, S. Viyalendran, defected on Friday and was appointed as Rajapakasa’s deputy minister of regional development.

No specific bribery allegations against Viyalendran were made, but the party condemned him for “being a part of this conspiracy.”

The United National Party led by ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has announced plans to propose a no-confidence vote against Rajapaksa as soon as Parliament reconvenes.

The Tamil party’s 15 votes could give Wickremesinghe’s camp a decisive edge over Rajapaksa.

So far, six members from Wickremesinghe’s United National Front have defected to Rajapaksa’s government.

The minority coalition has the backing of 15 legislators in the 225-member House and could play a key role in swaying a no-confidence vote as Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe now command the support of about a 100 politicians each.

But analysts said the TNA’s decision did not spell defeat for Rajapaksa because the former president has managed to whittle away at Wickremesinghe’s initial majority by getting at least six members from his United National Party (UNP) to switch support.

A majority of 113 is required to vote a prime minister out.

Some 121 lawmakers were expected Saturday to support the no-confidence vote, according to a count by The Associated Press.

Sirisena dismissed Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet last week and later announced that he acted in part because Wickremesinghe and a Cabinet colleague were behind an alleged assassination plot against him. Details of the alleged plot have not been disclosed and Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied the accusation.

Sirisena also suspended Parliament until Nov. 16.

Sirisena’s moves have triggered a power struggle that some observers have called a constitutional crisis.

Since his ouster, Wickremesinghe has stayed at Temple Trees, the official residence of the prime minister, insisting he is still the legitimate leader because he commands majority support in Parliament.

Wickremesinghe said in an interview with the AP that there is credible evidence that Rajapaksa’s party is attempting to buy support in Parliament. Palitha Range Bandara, a United National Party lawmaker, has said that he was offered millions of dollars and a minister portfolio if he crossed over.

Lawmakers from Rajapaksa’s party have denied the allegations.

Sirisena is under mounting pressure by his political opponents, rights groups and foreign governments including the United States and European Union to summon Parliament and end the crisis.

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 was also critical of investigations into military personnel accused of human rights violations during Sri Lanka’s long civil war, which ended in 2009. Rajapaksa is credited as a hero by Sri Lanka’s ethnic Sinhalese majority for ending the conflict with a faction from the ethnic Tamil minority population.

TNA represents ethnic Tamils for whom the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels fought for an independent state.

Bribery Allegations

Palitha Range Bandara, a UNP member who alleged he was offered $2.8m and a ministerial post to switch support, on Saturday aired an audio clip at a news conference in which a purported senior official from Sirisena and Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) could be heard offering him a cabinet post.

“We have 113 MPs, but we would really like to have you,” the man was heard saying. “If you come now you can get a cabinet position … don’t wait.”

The UPFA has previously dismissed allegations of bribery.

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