Sri Lanka’s prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, hands over inaugural documents to an official during his duties assuming ceremony in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Oct. 29, 2018. (Photograph: AP/PTI)

No Confidence in New PM, Sri Lanka Lawmakers Tell Parliament

(Bloomberg) -- Sri Lanka’s parliament passed a no confidence motion against the former strongman leader who was abruptly appointed prime minister last month, deepening a political crisis that has roiled the island nation for weeks.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who fired prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Sri Lanka’s former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in late October, had dissolved the island nation’s parliament and called for fresh elections.

No Confidence in New PM, Sri Lanka Lawmakers Tell Parliament

But after Wickremesinghe led a challenge to the legality of the president’s move, the Supreme Court late on Tuesday stayed Sirisena’s order and allowed the house to reconvene. On Wednesday, an opposition Marxist party handed over a no confidence motion to the house speaker as parliament met for the first time since Sirisena plunged the country into its current political crisis.

"Parliament voted that they have no confidence in the government under Rajapaksa," Wickremesinghe said on Wednesday at a press conference following the vote. "It is an illegal government."

The motion challenged the appointment of Rajapaksa, as well as the country’s freshly appointed cabinet ministers, as illegal. When the house speaker asked for a vote on the matter, as many as 120 members -- a majority in the 225-seat parliament -- stood up against Rajapaksa, according to Lakshman Kiriella, a member of Wickremesinghe’s United National Party.

No Confidence in New PM, Sri Lanka Lawmakers Tell Parliament

The speaker declared the motion was passed by a voice vote but was prevented from doing a roll call, Wickremesinghe said.

In a statement, speaker Karu Jayasuriya said he will send the president copies of the no confidence motion, the parliament’s decision and a letter with 122 signatures against the "unconstitutional" appointment of Rajapaksa.

The country’s parliament "accepts the majority vote and rules that the fake government of Mahinda Rajapaksa does not have the confidence" of the house, said Harsha de Silva, a lawmaker allied to Wickremesinghe, in a tweet.

The director of international media division at the president’s office said Sirisena had no comment on the developments. Rajapaksa’s media coordinator said he was not immediately available.

Rajapaksa, who was present in the house at the time the vote was called, left amid shouts from his supporters. Lawmaker Dinesh Gunawardena, who supports Rajapaksa, said the house speaker had acted unfairly by calling for a vote on the first session of parliament.

The legislature was adjourned until Thursday.

No Confidence in New PM, Sri Lanka Lawmakers Tell Parliament

Legal Challenge

The vote is the latest twist in a constitutional crisis that began Oct. 26 when Sirisena unexpectedly fired Wickremesinghe, who had served since 2015 as prime minister in a unity government with the president. The move to fire the prime minister and unilaterally appoint Rajapaksa, who ruled between 2005 and 2015 but was criticized for human rights abuses and corruption, was strongly criticized by countries including the U.S.

Sirisena’s dismissal of Wickremesinghe has led to weeks of political turmoil. At first, both sides insisted they had the votes to triumph in a parliamentary vote, but Sirisena later dissolved parliament entirely after his party conceded they lacked the numbers.

In the parliamentary session on Wednesday, a request from one of Rajapaksa’s supporters to adjourn parliament was rejected after the house speaker called for a vote on the matter and a majority of parliamentarians decided to continue with the session.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.