Australia has expressed alarm about the deepening political crisis in Sri Lanka, with Foreign Minister Marise Payne warning “democratic principles must be upheld in the country”.
- Some observers say the political machinations have created a constitutional crisis
- Two people died and one was wounded in a shooting related to the political turmoil
- The ousted Prime Minister says his sacking was illegal and he retains Parliament’s support
President Maithripala Sirisena sent shockwaves through Sri Lanka on Friday when he sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, replacing him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mr Sirisena claims he fired Mr Wickremesinghe because one of his Cabinet ministers was involved in a plot to assassinate him — but the former Prime Minister has dismissed that accusation, and says his sacking was illegal.
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Colombo to demand Mr Sirisena resolve the crisis, while two people were killed during a violent skirmish at the country’s Petroleum Ministry on Sunday.
The Speaker of Sri Lanka’s Parliament has warned of a “bloodbath” if the power struggle is not resolved.
Senator Payne said Australia was concerned about the developments in Sri Lanka, and urged all parties to refrain from violence.
Sri Lanka’s sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremesinghe, centre, is adamant he should retain the position. (AP: Eranga Jayawardena)
She did not directly criticise Mr Sirisena, but made it clear Australia was deeply uneasy about the way Mr Wickremesinghe was removed.
“It is important that issues be addressed expeditiously through Parliament and that democratic principles and freedoms are upheld,” Senator Payne said.
“Australia urges all parties to respect the democratic will of the people of Sri Lanka, as exercised through their elected representatives.”
We will get through this, consul-general says
Sri Lanka consul-general Lal Wickrematunge told the ABC the official word from Colombo the President has acted according to the constitution.
Despite warnings of possible violence, Mr Wickrematunge said he remained confident the situation would be resolved democratically.
“I think always Sri Lanka emerges through this type of crisis in a democratic manner,” Mr Wickrematunge said.
“We have had changes of governments quite peacefully in the past.
New Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, centre, leaves a Buddhist temple after meeting supporters. (AP: Eranga Jayawardena)
“I think it will be resolved peacefully. It is a little hazy at the moment with the protests, but it will get clearer as a few days go by.”
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the President had been “shopping around” for a new prime minister since a “humiliating defeat” at local government elections in February.
“I think there is a fundamental incompatibility between the Prime Minister and the President, both in terms of personality and agreement on policy, as well as ideology,” he said.
“[The President] has argued that the revelations with regard to a conspiracy to assassinate him, the questions of the development and expansion of the eastern container port in the Colombo harbour — there are fundamental disagreements with the Prime Minister in respect of dealing with those issues and he had to act,” he said.
“Pressure has been put on the Speaker to reconvene Parliament even though the President has prorogued it.
“The prorogation ends on November 15 and waiting till then will be pretty disastrous, I think, for the country at large.
“So the Speaker really needs to convene Parliament and bring this to a vote in Parliament.”