BFF-41 Sri Lanka court denies Rajapakse authority to act as PM

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BFF-41

SRILANKA-POLITICS-COURT-LEAD

Sri Lanka court denies Rajapakse authority to act as PM

COLOMBO, Dec 3, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – A court in Sri Lanka suspended Mahinda
Rajapakse’s powers as prime minister on Monday and ruled his disputed cabinet
could not govern the strife-torn island until it proved its legitimacy.

The decision casts further legal doubt over Rajapakse’s claim to lead Sri
Lanka, which has been in turmoil since his controversial appointment a month
ago.

Rajapakse, who was installed after the country’s president sacked Ranil
Wickremesinghe as prime minister on October 26, has twice been voted out by
parliament but has refused to step down.

Rajapakse said he did not agree with the court’s decision and would appeal
on Tuesday, but cancelled a meeting with bankers in compliance with the
ruling.

“We do not agree with the interim order of the Court of Appeal,” he said
in a statement, referring to himself and his party. “We are preparing papers
to go to the Supreme Court first thing in the morning tomorrow.”

He urged supporters to remain calm and join his struggle to press for a
general election nearly two years ahead of schedule.

President Maithripala Sirisena has been under pressure to prove his
appointee Rajapakse — a divisive but charismatic strongman who twice ruled
Sri Lanka — commands support.

But the president acknowledged that he was left without a government
following the sudden court ruling.

Minority Tamil legislators who held talks with Sirisena on Monday evening
said the leader had told them he would resolve the political vacuum “within
24 hours”.

The lawmakers, who command 14 seats and hold the balance of power in the
legislature, met Sirisena to discuss the release of more than 100 Tamil
detainees held in custody for several years without trial.

However, there was no breakthrough in securing the release of the
detainees, the Tamil MPs said.

The Tamil MPs last week pledged support to sacked premier Wickremesinghe,
further weakening the position of the Sirisena-Rajapakse coalition.

– ‘Irreparable damage’ –

Rajapakse has ignored parliament and doubled down, naming a cabinet and
assuming duties at the helm of a disputed government even as his rivals
frustrate his attempts.

A majority of legislators asked the Court of Appeal last week to
intervene, saying Rajapakse should not have remained in office after
parliament passed motions against him.

Their position “was that Rajapakse had no legitimacy after losing two no-
confidence motions”, lawyer and legislator M. A. Sumanthiran told reporters
after the decision.

The court gave Rajapakse until December 12 to prove to its judges his
legitimacy to lead and the authority of his cabinet.

Until then, it agreed that “irreparable or irremediable damage” could be
done to Sri Lanka if Rajapakse was allowed to remain prime minister, said
court chairman Padman Surasena.

Wickremesinghe — who was unceremoniously dumped by his former ally
Sirisena in a late-night power swap — says his sacking was illegal, and
parliament supports his stake to lead the country.

The two rivals had been neck and neck trying to cobble together enough
backing, negotiating with key legislators and trying to lure defectors.

The contest spilled over into outright brawling on the floor of parliament
last month when Rajapakse loyalists broke furniture and attacked rivals with
chilli powder.

Rajapakse loyalists have since boycotted the legislature, accusing the
speaker of bias.

After Rajapakse lost his first no-trust vote on November 14, the speaker
declared that the country was left without a government. Wickremesinghe’s
party described Rajapakse as an usurper.

The latest court ruling is yet another setback for Rajapakse, who ruled
with an iron fist for a decade before being defeated by none other than
Sirisena in a 2015 election.

Parliament last week voted to block Rajapakse’s “rogue government” from
spending any money, meaning he cannot finance his administration or present a
budget for 2019.

The Supreme Court this week is also expected to rule on whether Sirisena’s
decision to dissolve parliament in November was constitutional.

The court intervened and restored parliament in November when Sirisena —
seeking to stave off a challenge to his new appointee — suspended the
legislature.

BSS/AFP/RY/21:18 hrs