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article imageSri Lanka rivals target defectors to end political crisis

By Amal JAYASINGHE (AFP)     Nov 3, 2018 in World

Attempts to win over MP defectors intensified in Sri Lanka's constitutional crisis Saturday amid growing pressure to let the suspended parliament hold a vote on the two rivals who each claim to be prime minister.

Ousted premier Ranil Wickremesinghe has refused to accept his sacking by President Maithripala Sirisena, who named former strongman president Mahinda Rajapakse in his place.

Rajapakse has eaten into Wickremesinghe's majority amid warnings from pro-democracy and anti-corruption groups about the tactics being used.

A member of Wickremesinghe's United National Party, S.B. Nawinna, became the latest to defect and was rewarded with the cultural affairs portfolio in Rajapakse's government.

A deputy from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) party also switched sides and was made a deputy minister. "We are expecting a few more defections on Saturday," a source close to President Sirisena said.

At least three more deputies from the TNA, which has 16 in the 225-member parliament, are expected to go over to the Rajapakse.

- Decisive support -

The TNA has still said it will back a motion against Rajapakse that the UNP has submitted to be taken up when parliament does reconvene.

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

The TNA called Rajapakse's appointment on October 26 "unconstitutional and illegal." A statement from the party added that the alliance had "decided to vote in favour of the no-confidence motion against Rajapakse."

Tamil support is decisive for Wickremesinghe -- who has remained bunkered in the official prime minister's residence since his sacking, seeking to bolster his numbers in the assembly.

According to latest counts, Wickremesinghe has 103 MPs while Rajapakse and Sirisena together have 100. Most of the 22 remaining MPs, including the TNA, are likely to oppose Rajapakse, observers said.

Huge amounts are reportedly being offered to defectors.

A UNP stalwart, Range Bandara, said this week he was offered $2.8 million to cross over and support Rajapakse.

The minority Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) party, which has seven lawmakers, said its members had also rejected offers to join the Sirisena-Rajapakse camp.

A pro-democracy movement urged MPs not to sell their votes and undermine the will of the people.

Sri Lankan soldiers walk outside the prime minister's official residence in Colombo on October ...
Sri Lankan soldiers walk outside the prime minister's official residence in Colombo on October 28, 2018

"We appeal to you not to allow parliament to be put up for sale. You have a responsibility to prevent Sri Lanka from being plunged further into a moral and ethical political abyss," the Movement for Democracy said.

It expressed alarm at ministerial positions being given for changing political loyalties. "We demand a stop to this culture of buying and selling votes," the group said.

The Transparency International anti-graft watchdog highlighted the country's Bribery Act which made accepting and offering inducements a jailable offence.

The president suspended parliament for 20 days until November 16 after sacking Wickremesinghe, in a move to put off a parliamentary vote that would have gone against his choice for prime minister.

- Parliament opening doubtful -

Parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya has called a meeting for next Wednesday. But the president's spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said he did still does not expect parliament to open before November 16.

Sri Lanka's newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has given four legislators from hi...
Sri Lanka's newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has given four legislators from his political rival's party ministerial portfolios

Rajapakse loyalists are arranging a mass rally on Monday near the parliament complex to support to what the local media has dubbed a "constitutional coup."

Rights groups as well as Western nations have urged Sirisena to summon parliament to end the crisis.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has joined the international calls for Sirisena to reinstate parliament.

Guterres told Sirisena he was following the Sri Lanka crisis "with concern," and "urged the president to revert to parliamentary procedures and allow the parliament to vote as soon as possible," a UN statement said.

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