Mahinda Rajapaksa. (Photographer: Pankaj Nangia/Bloomberg News)

Rajapaksa Opponents Win Control of Sri Lanka Parliament Panel

(Bloomberg) -- Sri Lankan lawmakers opposing the country’s recently-appointed prime minister took control of a key parliamentary committee when the house met briefly on Friday, the latest twist in a political crisis that led Moody’s to downgrade the island nation’s rating earlier this week.

The tiny South Asian nation off the coast of India has been embroiled in a constitutional crisis since Oct. 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena unexpectedly fired his prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had served since 2015 in a unity government with the president.

During Friday’s session, 121 members in the 225-seat legislature voted through an electronic system to endorse a cross-party parliamentary select committee named by House Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, even as Rajapaksa supporters walked out of the chamber in protest because their demand for a majority representation in the panel was not granted.

The new committee, which would decide on the business of parliament, includes five members backing Rajapaksa, five supporting Wickremesinghe, and one each from the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party and Tamil National Alliance, both of which also opposed the appointment of Rajapaksa as the country’s prime minister.

“Finally we got the opportunity to show who has a majority in the Sri Lanka Parliament,” according to a tweet from former junior economic affairs minister and MP Harsha de Silva. “This comprehensively determines that the fake government of Rajapaksa is unconstitutional and illegal.”

Political Crisis

Sirisena originally suspended parliament, and then tried to dissolve the legislature entirely for fresh elections, a move that was eventually blocked. Since then, there have been several attempts by Wickremesinghe’s party and allies to oust Rajapaksa in a confidence vote. Two house votes went against Rajapaksa, but his side has not conceded defeat. Sirisena has instead called for a third vote.

The move to fire Wickremesinghe and unilaterally replace him as prime minister with pro-China strongman Rajapaksa, who ruled as president between 2005 and 2015, was strongly criticized by countries including the U.S. Rajapaksa, who helped end the country’s 26-year civil war in 2009, has been criticized for human rights abuses.

Lawmakers in the seaside capital Colombo have met several times recently to try and resolve the leadership dispute that has gripped the country for several weeks. Parliamentarians recently met for a raucous session in which supporters of Rajapaksa stormed the house speaker, throwing water bottles and trash cans. The speaker was surrounded and protected by lawmakers allied with Wickremesinghe.

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