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article imageSri Lanka's Rajapakse vows to hold polls despite challenge

By AFP     Nov 11, 2018 in Politics

Sri Lanka's former strongman leader Mahinda Rajapakse Sunday vowed snap elections would go ahead to "seek a mandate from the people" after the president's sacking of parliament plunged the country deeper into political turmoil.

President Maithripala Sirisena triggered the crisis two weeks ago by sacking prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replacing him with Rajapakse in a power swap his rivals say is illegal.

Sirisena dismissed parliament on Friday and called new polls for January 5, throwing the island into fresh chaos as the United States urged Sri Lanka to respect democratic processes.

Wickremesinghe's party had wanted parliament reconvened to prove he commanded a majority, but Sirisena refused and sacked the legislature instead, escalating a standoff between the rival factions.

Rajapakse, a former president who led Sri Lanka with an iron fist for a decade, said "no one" could stop the polls going ahead.

"The election will go ahead and I am confident we will sweep the election," he told reporters Sunday in his first remarks since the polls were called.

"The international community must realise that this is democracy. They must understand our position. We are seeking a mandate from the people."

Rajapakse said he was meeting with lawyers ahead of a slew of legal challenges in the Supreme Court to his appointment and the polls.

His rival Wickremesinghe insists he still heads the government and has refused to vacate the prime minister's official residence in Colombo.

Sirisena dissolved parliament less than a week before the legislature was expected to vote on either Rajapakse and Wickremesinghe.

Sirisena's party had acknowledged that it did not have a majority in the 225-member assembly, despite arranging eight defections from Wickremesinghe's party.

Only China has recognised Rajapakse's appointment as prime minister.

The United States has led a chorus of international voices expressing concern over threats to democracy in the island of 21 million people strategically located in the Indian Ocean.

Election monitors have questioned the legality of the election, which comes nearly two years ahead of schedule.

The People's Action for Free and Fair Elections, one of two officially sanctioned election monitoring groups, said it believed Sirisena's actions were unconstitutional.

"As an election monitoring group we can't oppose a poll, but there are serious questions about the validity of the president's action in calling this election," its chief Rohana Hettiarachchi told AFP.

He said he had already asked the independent Elections Commission to seek an opinion from the attorney general and an order from the Supreme Court.

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