Colombo, Dec 3: A Sri Lankan court on Monday barred Mahinda Rajapaksa from acting as Prime Minister, in a major setback to President Maithripala Sirisena who installed him after sacking premier Ranil Wickremesinghe that triggered a major constitutional crisis in the country.
The Court of Appeal temporary halted Rajapaksa and his Cabinet from functioning in their positions in response to a case filed by 122 legislators against his disputed government. The court set the hearing of the case for December 12 and 13. "According to the interim relief, Rajapaksa and his disputed government have been prevented from acting as Prime Minister, cabinet and deputy ministers," said a lawyer, who was present at the hearing. He said that the court was of the opinion that "irreparable damage" could be caused if persons not entitled to do so sit as prime minister and cabinet ministers.
Reacting to the court ruling, Wickremesinghe said, "The triumph of democratic institutions over the whims of individuals is the legacy of the good governance agenda. "We will continue to defend the sovereignty of our citizens and we stand ready to face elections in a legitimate manner in line with the constitution," he tweeted.
Rajapaksa also reacted by saying that he would appeal to the Supreme Court on Tuesday against the Appeal Court's interim order. "We will not agree with the interim order issued by the Court of Appeal today suspending the Cabinet. We will appeal to the Supreme Court first thing tomorrow against it,” a release from Rajapaksa said. He said that it was the Supreme Court which has the power to interpret the Constitution.
As many as 122 parliamentarians of Wickeremesinghe's United National Party (UNP), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Tamil National Alliance last month filed a petition in the Court of Appeal challenging Rajapaksa's authority as the prime minister. The interim ruling was a major blow to both President Sirisena and Rajapaksa after the former had appointed his ex-rival as the prime minister on October 26, plunging the country into a major constitutional crisis. Sirisena later dissolved Parliament, almost 20 months before its term was to end, and ordered snap election.
The Supreme Court overturned Sirisena's decision to dissolve Parliament and halted the preparations for snap polls. The political crisis has crippled the government for more than a month. Both Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa claim to be the prime ministers. Wickremesinghe says his dismissal is invalid because he still holds a majority in the 225-member Parliament.
Prior to the crisis, Wickramasinghe's UNP had the backing of 106 parliamentarians while Rajapaksa and Sirisena combine had 95 seats. Rajapaksa has, so far, failed to prove his majority in Parliament. Wickremesinghe, with the support from the main Tamil party, claims to have the support of more than 113 legislators, required for simple majority.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has 16 seats in the house and JVP has six legislators. The UNF has moved three no trust motions against Rajapaksa, who has refused to step down.
The Sri Lankan president has said that due to sharp personal differences with Wickremesinghe he would not reappoint him as the Prime Minister. However, Wickremesinghe's UNP claims that Sirisena will be left with no choice as he would be the man who will command the confidence in the House.