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Dissolution Gazette ready to be dropped but Sri Lanka President reiterates not accepting RW as PM, crisis set to continue

COLOMBO (All Sources) – 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.

However Friday’s UNF discussion with President Maithripala Sirisena had virtually come to a halt,when he reiterated he will not reappoint ousted Ranil Wickramsinghe as Prime Minister but would accept any other UNF nominee according MP Mano Ganesan.

He added that the President at the UNF meeting

•accepted UNF’s Majority & failure of @PresRajapaksa to show-up required numbers

•indicated willingness to withdraw dissolution gazette & added he will not dissolve or prorougue again

•distanced himself from activities of MPs in the house referring to UPFA-SLPP group

The country has been in a crisis since 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.

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 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 Sirisena, Dharmasri Ekanayake, said he was unaware of any such plans.

“DIGNIFIED EXIT”

A second source in 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 favor.

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

Foreign countries have yet to recognize 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.

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, which he denies.

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 personal differences with former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. 

The crisis deepened on Friday when parliament voted to halt payment of ministers’ salaries – a move to pressure the disputed government of Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa loyalists boycotted the vote saying it was illegal.

Separately on Friday, the country’s Appeal Court began a hearing on a petition signed by 122 legislators that challenged Rajapaksa’s authority to hold office after he lost the no confidence votes earlier this month.

THE RANIL IMPASSE

President Sirisena held two high-level meetings on Friday evening — with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentary group and the leaders of the United National Front (UNF) led by ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) — to explore a possible way out of the crisis, sources present at the discussions said.

The TNA had a “cordial” meeting with the President, according to its leader R. Sampanthan, who pointed out that the legislature and the executive have been in conflict following Mr. Sirisena’s actions since October 26. The party “claiming to be government”, the TNA observed, was not present in the House over the past few days. 

A month after being controversially installed as premier, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is yet to prove majority in the House, making it harder for Mr. Sirisena to continue justifying his appointment in place of Mr. Wickremesinghe.

The TNA also pointed to the two cases in court — one challenging President Sirisena’s dissolution of Parliament and call for snap polls, and another Quo Warranto petition asking on whose authority Mr. Rajapaksa was continuing in office despite losing the trust vote. 

UNP’s support in 2015 

“There is every possibility that the outcome of the cases might overturn his [President’s] decisions. That would not be desirable, so we advised him to take well-considered decisions at the earliest, rather than hasty, ill-advised decisions,” Mr. Sampanthan said. 

When Mr. Sirisena reiterated his reservations on working with Mr. Wickremesinghe, the TNA leader told him that it was important not to disregard the fact that the UNP had backed his presidential candidacy in the 2015 election. “We told him that the party’s choice in nominating its prime ministerial candidate must be respected,” Mr. Sampanthan said.

Based on the latest developments the crisis and impasse could yet continue with a formula to remove or replace ‘elephant in the room’ not yet being sorted out between President and his coalition partners.

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