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Sri Lanka president dissolves parliament amid political crisis

By
Sommer Brokaw
Sri Lanka's United National Party supporters followed by a motorcade proceed towards a protest rally at Torrington Square in Colombo, Sri Lanka,Thursday. Though removed as prime minister by the country's president on Oct. 26, UNP party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe insists the move was unconstitutional and refuses to vacate the official residence. Photo by M.A.Pushpa Kumara/EPA-EFE
Sri Lanka's United National Party supporters followed by a motorcade proceed towards a protest rally at Torrington Square in Colombo, Sri Lanka,Thursday. Though removed as prime minister by the country's president on Oct. 26, UNP party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe insists the move was unconstitutional and refuses to vacate the official residence. Photo by M.A.Pushpa Kumara/EPA-EFE

Nov. 10 (UPI) -- Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved the country's parliament overnight and called for new elections as political conflict over the prime minister's seat grows.

The move shows an escalation in the showdown between Sirisena and the country's sitting prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

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They represent different parties of a coalition government and their partnership broke when Sirisena dismissed Wickremesinghe from his post on Oct. 26, which experts argue was unconstitutional.

Though Sirisena named a new prime minister, Mahina Rajapaska, a former president known for using brutal force to end the country's civil war in 2009, Wickremesinghe claims to be the rightful prime minister. Wickremesinghe has remained in the official prime ministerial residence and Rajapaska has installed loyalists as new cabinet ministers since last month, further increasing tensions.

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Sirisena said his removal of Wickremesinghe was justified because he was corrupt and expressed concerns he was a target of an assassination plot.

Still, the United States and Europe have voiced concern and called for a swift parliamentary vote to demonstrate which prime minister controls the majority in the chamber.

However, Sirisena instead suspended the chamber to give Rajapaska time to gather more support, but as of Friday evening he was still short of support he needed, leading to the more drastic move overnight to entirely dissolve the parliament with a call for new elections on January 5.

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"This is an illegal act, there is no provision within the constitution for the president to dissolve parliament this way," said Ajith Perera, a member of Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP) on Saturday.

Constitutional law expert Jayampathy Wickremaratne said a constitutional amendment passed in 2015 only allowed the dissolution of parliament after four and a half years of its five-year term or upon request of two-thirds of its members. The next regularly scheduled parliamentary elections is Aug. 2020.

Sirisena cited a different provision of the constitution in dissolving parliament and calling for the elections sooner than usual.

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Thousands of supporters on each side have taken to the streets in protest with a bodyguard of one of Wickremesinghe's ministers firing into the crowd at one point, killing one person and injuring two.

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