Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court Temporarily Bars Rajapaksa from Acting as Prime Minister
On Monday, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court temporarily barred Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his 48 cabinet ministers from acting in their government positions. The Court’s decision reflects the latest turn of events in a political crisis which has afflicted Sri Lanka for over a month.
P.M. Rajapaksa and his cabinet ministers have until Dec. 12 to appear before the Sri Lankan Court of Appeals. They will be required to explain why the constitutional authority should continue to serve in the Sri Lankan government despite losing two no-confidence motions in the nation’s Parliament on Nov. 14 and 16.
The Parliament will deliberate on a third no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Rajapaksa on Thursday. The motion requires the minimum support of 113 out of Parliament’s 225 members. Both the United National Front (UNF), led by former PM Wickremesinghe, and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have already expressed support for the motion.
Sri Lanka’s political crisis began on October 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena unilaterally replaced former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with Rajapaksa. He also suspended Sri Lanka’s Parliament for a three-week period and called for snap elections on January 5. The latter two actions were temporarily blocked by Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court. Many questioned the constitutionality of President Sirisena’s actions, pointing to concerns over his potential power abuse.
Mahinda Rajapaksa served as Sri Lanka’s president from 2005 to 2015. However, in 2015, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe joined forces, despite formerly being political enemies, in order to defeat Rajapaksa’s administration in the Country’s general elections. Rajapaksa’s tenure was plagued with frequent allegations of human rights abuses, such as the restriction of freedom of speech.
Despite losing to Wickremesinghe and Sirisena’s coalition in 2015, Rajapaksa has remained a semi-popular figure in Sri Lankan politics for ten years. At the end of October, when Sirisena replaced Wickremesinghe with Rajapaksa, Wickremesinghe and Sirisena’s fragile coalition reached its breaking point.
Amidst the Supreme Court’s decision and Rajapaksa’s appeal process, President Sirisena has openly refused to reappoint PM Wickremesinghe. According to Aljazeera, President Sirisena asked members of Wickremesinghe’s UNF party to nominate another candidate for Prime Minister, reassuring them that a different person would be officially instituted “within 24 hours.”
Against the backdrop of mounting tension and division within Sri Lankan politics, a question exists over whether it will be possible for Sri Lanka’s Court of Appeals to make an entirely objective decision about the constitutionality of PM Rajapaksa’s claim to power. For the island nation to have any hope at regaining stability, the Court’s ruling must be entirely devoid of political considerations.