Sri Lanka’s president said he dissolved Parliament and called elections to avoid possible violence inside Parliament and around the country if a vote had to be taken to decide whether his chosen prime minister or his sacked rival had the majority support.
In a televised address to the nation Sunday evening, President Maithripala Sirisena said he heard stories from lawmakers on both sides of possible violence in Parliament that could even result in deaths and clashes spreading around the country.
“It appeared to me that, if I allowed the Parliament to be convened on the 14th, without dissolving it, it could have brought about commotion and fights in every city and every village would lead to very unpleasant and difficult situation for the average citizens of my beloved country,” he said.
“As such, the best solution was not to allow those 225 members in the Parliament to fight each other and allow that to develop into a street fights in every part of the country. It is my duty and the responsibility to … create the situation for the 15 million voters in this country takes the ultimate decision by choosing their members to the Parliament through a free and fair election.”
The U.N. and foreign governments have expressed concerns over Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Parliament on Friday and his earlier sacking of Ranil Wickremesinghe, who he replaced with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa. Wickremesinghe says his sacking is unconstitutional and that he still has a majority support in Parliament.
Sirisena initially suspended Parliament until Nov. 16, delaying the possibility of testing the majority. He then dissolved it after being unable to secure support for Rajapaksa and called for elections to take place on Jan. 5. Several political parties have said they will petition the Supreme Court on Monday seeking to nullify Parliament’s dissolution.
A statement from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s office recently expressed concern.
“The Secretary-General underlines the utmost importance of respecting democratic processes and institutions and resolving differences in accordance with the rule of law and due process,” his deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, said.
In his address to the nation, Sirisena also appeared to issue a warning about Wickremesinghe remaining in the official residence of the prime minister.
He said only his new prime minister and Cabinet ministers were entitled to use state vehicles and assets at a time of transition and said he will deploy police to take over state assets and take legal action against violators if those assets were not surrendered.
Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, who were leading traditionally opposed parties, were part of an awkward coalition government until Wickremesinghe’s sacking on Oct. 26.
Tensions had been building for some time between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, who had introduced economic reforms the president did not approve. Sirisena has also accused Wickremesinghe and another Cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him, an accusation Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied.
Sirisena also has criticized investigations into military personnel accused of human rights violations during Sri Lanka’s long civil war against a Tamil separatist group, which ended in 2009. Rajapaksa, who ruled as president from 2005 to 2015, is considered a hero by the ethnic Sinhalese majority for winning the conflict. But he lost a re-election bid in 2015 amid accusations of nepotism, corruption and wartime atrocities.
Rajapaksa on Sunday left his longtime political party and joined another, in a move that could weaken Sirisena.
Rajapaksa joined the Sri Lanka People’s Front, a party of which he was shadow leader for months. A large number of members of Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, are likely to join Rajapaksa because he has the biggest following among them.
However, both Rajapaksa and Sirisena have said they will face the Jan. 5 election together.
Hundreds of people gathered in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, on Sunday for a candle light vigil protesting what they purported an unconstitutional dissolution of parliament.unb