Lanka seeks South Asia’s cooperation to face mounting pressure from the West

AsiaNews l Colombo, November 1 (newsin.asia): Sri Lanka’s new Foreign Minister, Dr.Sarath Amunugama, on Wednesday met envoys of South Asian countries to get South Asia’s assistance to face mounting pressure from the Western bloc on the on-going political and constitutional crisis in the island nation.

Sources said that Dr.Amunugama appealed to South Asian countries to stay together and act together to face common threats from the outside world.

The new Foreign Minister explained to the gathered envoys, in a genial way, that Sri Lanka is not averse to criticism or to engaging with the Western nations on any issue of concern to them, but it simply cannot allow itself to be bullied and browbeaten with threats of sanctions.

Referring to the travel advisories issued by the US, UK and other Western countries, Dr,Amunugama said that punitive measures which target tourism will only hurt the common man.

He pointed out that a wide spectrum of Sri Lankan society is linked to tourism in one way or another.

In domestic and international relations there could be difference and conflicts, but the common man could not be made to suffer on account of these, he argued.

Later, a group of Western envoys and diplomats met parliament Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya, and warned him that if Sri Lanka did not return to constitutional government and due legal processes, inimical consequences could follow.

The EU Ambassador Tung-Lai Margue had earlier told President Maithripala Sirisena at a similar meeting that the EU might have to consider withdrawing trade concessions under the General System of Preferences Plus scheme.

On his part, Speaker Jayasuriya appealed to the diplomats not to take any action against Sri Lanka because efforts were being made to find a way out of the crisis through constitutional and democratic means.

Jayasuriya said that he was going to meet President Sirisena with a proposal to get him to convene parliament before November 16 to have a floor test on the issue of Premiership.

At the meeting with the President, Jayasuriya was told that efforts would be made to convene parliament before November 16 in consultation with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Meanwhile, the  President had told members of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) that he would quit office within an hour if parliament voted in favor of sacked Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. Likewise, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said that he would quit if voted out.

Karu Jayasuriya meeting a group of Western envoys

Background

On October 26, President Sirisena suddenly sacked Ranil Wickremesinghe from the Premiership and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa citing irreconcilable differences over policies and the style of functioning.

The President followed this up by proroguing parliament from October 27 to November 15.

The move was vehemently opposed by Wickremesinghe and the United National Front (UNF) he heads.

Wickremesinghe argued that the President has no power to sack him following the enactment of the 19th.Amendment of the constitution in 2015. As per the 19(A), a Prime Minister could be removed by a vote in parliament, if he resigns or if he ceases to be a Member of Parliament.

Wickremesinghe is still claiming to be the Prime Minister and is refusing to vacate his official residence Temple Trees, while surrendering the PM’ office.

But the President argues that the moment Wickremesinghe’s coalition partner the  United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) quit the cabinet, the cabinet had ceased to exist and the Prime Minister had to go. The President could then appoint a Prime Minister who, in his opinion, could command majority support in parliament.

The President’s decision was based on the argument that in the case of ‘national governments’, the size of the cabinet could be 45 but in the case of single party governments, it could only be 30. After the withdrawal of the UPFA from the cabinet, the size of the cabinet was more than 30 in violation of the constitutional cap. Therefore  the cabinet and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had no option but to go.

This convoluted legal argument drew widespread condemnation and all democratic forces rose in indignation issuing strongly worded statements which described the dismissal of the Prime Minister as a “constitutional coup”.

There was a unanimous call for the immediate convening of parliament to resolve the issue through a vote.

At the start, Wickremesinghe had 106 MPs with him and the support of the 16 member Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the six member Janatha Vimkthi Peramuna in a house with a total membership of 225. He therefore had majority support.

But the Sirisena-Rajapaksa group began to use the prorogation of parliament till November 15 to get UNF MPs to defect.

By October 31, five United National Party (UNP)  MPs had defected to get ministerial positions.

The ruling group expects more to defect in the following days as there are vacancies in the cabinet and the larger council of ministers.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa’s party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), has said that it will not take up ministerial posts in order to accommodate those from the UNF who may want these posts.

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