Newly appointed Sri Lankan prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa speaks at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Perth, Australia. (Photographer: Sabine Albers/Bloomberg)

Sri Lanka Court Restrains Rajapaksa Acting as Prime Minister

(Bloomberg) -- Sri Lanka’s Court of Appeal issued an interim order preventing newly appointed prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government’s ministers from exercising powers until it hears a petition challenging their authority.

The court issued its order on Monday after 122 members of Sri Lanka’s parliament, who are allied with ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, filed a legal action on Nov. 23 challenging Rajapaksa’s authority as prime minister.

In a statement emailed on Monday evening, Rajapaksa said he did not accept the appeal court’s ruling and would take the matter to the Supreme Court.

Wickremesinghe appeared on local television Tuesday to say he was willing to face an election, but that it must be conducted with the legitimate government in place, acting within the constitution and with the consensus of all parties in parliament.

Ratings Downgrade

Fitch Ratings on Tuesday downgraded Sri Lanka’s rating by one notch to B, or five levels below investment grade, saying the ongoing political turmoil worsens the nation’s external financing risks which are already under pressure due to tighter global monetary conditions.

President Maithripala Sirisena met with top bureaucrats on Tuesday and told them to "fulfill their respective duties and responsibilities" without disruption while the prime minister and cabinet were prevented by the court from carrying out their work.

Sirisena plunged the island nation into political chaos by unexpectedly replacing Wickremesinghe with Rajapaksa in late October. The president suspended parliament and later called for fresh general elections, a move that was stalled by Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court.

Lawmakers opposing Rajapaksa had already voted on Nov. 28 to freeze his office’s spending -- and the salaries of all ministers in his government -- in a bid to crimp the new government’s ability to implement policies. That was the third straight parliamentary vote to go against the former president, who ruled between 2005 and 2015.

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