Sri Lankan PM vows to appeal after court bars Mahinda Rajapaksa from office
The disputed PM has been accused of human rights abuses by diplomats. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds, file photo: Reuters)
Sri Lanka lies in limbo this week as a court prevents disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his disputed Cabinet from holding office.
- PM mired in controversy after President installed him in October
- Rajapaksa’s Government already lost two votes of no-confidence
- Supreme Court will ultimately determine if Government holds power
The move is set to heighten the island’s political drama, which has already seen Mr Rajapaksa vowing to appeal against the decision.
The South Asian nation has been in crisis since President Maithripala Sirisena replaced Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with Mr Rajapaksa in October, then issued an order dissolving parliament and called for a general election.
Mr Sirisena’s decisions have prompted legal challenges, and the Appeal Court began hearing a petition by 122 legislators challenging Mr Rajapaksa’s authority to hold office after he lost two no-confidence votes last month.
“The damage that will be posed by temporarily restraining a lawful cabinet of ministers from functioning would be … outweighed by the damage that would be caused by allowing a set of persons who are not entitled in law to function as the prime minister or the cabinet of ministers,” judge Preethipadhman Surasena said.
The judge issued the interim order against Mr Rajapaksa and his cabinet, and asked them to appear in court on December 12 to explain on what basis they hold office.
The order will be in place until a final judgement, whose date has not been set.
Mr Rajapaksa said in a statement his Government would lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court.
The decision puts a further brake on Mr Rajapaksa’s disputed Government after Parliament voted last week to halt payment of ministers’ salaries and travel expenses.
Interim budget on hold
The impasse has pushed the island’s currency to record lows, caused turmoil on its stock and bond markets and raised fears it may not be able to service debts to finance reconstruction following a 26-year civil war that ended in 2009.
The court order also came as Mr Rajapaksa was set to present an interim budget for the first few months of 2019.
In the absence of a budget, officials have raised concerns over the payment of salaries and pensions in the public sector and foreign debt repayments.
Mr Rajapaksa is seen as a hero by many among Sri Lanka’s Buddhist majority for ending the war but has been accused by diplomats of rights abuses, particularly at the end of the conflict, which he denies.
The Supreme Court is set to begin hearing a petition on whether Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament was constitutional.
It is expected to give its verdict on Friday.