Sri Lankan leaders’ crucial talks fail to solve crisis

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A crucial meeting among Sri Lanka’s political party leaders on Sunday failed to reach a breakthrough to resolve the political turmoil that has engulfed the island nation for several weeks, opposition lawmakers say.

Sri Lanka has been in crisis since Oct. 26 when President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa. Wickremesinghe says he still has the support of a majority in Parliament.

On Sunday, president Sirisena chaired the meeting attended by Rajapaksa, Wickremesinghe and other political leaders. Talks came two days after the parliament passed the second no-confidence motions against Rajapaksa who has so far refused to accept the results of the motion and continues to perform as prime minister.

Ajith Perera, a lawmaker from Wickremesinghe’s party, told reporters that Sunday’s meeting failed to reach a breakthrough.

He said it is illegal for Rajapaksa and his government to stay in power after two no-confidence motions were passed against them. “They are hanging on to power illegally,” he said.

Parliament turned violent when the no-confidence motions were taken up last week, with rival lawmakers exchanging blows, injuring several.

On Friday, lawmakers supporting Rajapaksa threw books, chairs and chili powder mixed with water to try to block the proceedings.

However, speaker Karu Jayasuriya, using a microphone, conducted the proceedings while standing on the floor of Parliament, which for the second time passed a no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa and his government by a voice vote.

Jayasuriya first offered to take the vote by name but was unable to do so because of the commotion and opted for a voice vote. He then adjourned the house until Monday. Parliament passed the first motion on Wednesday, also by voice vote due to the clashes.

Rajapaksa says the vote should not have been done by voice. He also insisted the speaker had no authority to remove him and said he is continuing in his role as prime minister.

Sirisena, as the head of the government, has the power to appoint the prime minister.

Sirisena has also rejected to accept the results of the no-confidence motions.

An opposition Marxist party —Peoples’ Liberation Party — boycotted the Sunday meeting, blaming Sirisena for creating the crisis for his “personal conspiratorial political interest.”

In a statement, the party said Sirisena is the “architect of the anarchy and instability” in the country and it could be corrected only by him.

At Sunday’s meeting, Sirisena has told party leaders that he would take a decision on the no-confidence motions “only if a vote is taken by name of the Members or by electronic voting,” according to a statement from his office.

Sirisena has said voting on an important motion to change a government should not be done by a voice vote which he said he is not transparent.

Harsha de Silva, another lawmaker Wickremesinghe’s party criticized the meeting, saying Rajapaksa and his loyal lawmakers “want to drag impasse along giving lame excuses of procedures” as Rajapaksa does not have the majority in the 225-member house.

“Go, MR Go. For God’s sake Go!,” de Silva stated in his tweet. MR is the acronym for Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa, a former president, is considered a hero by some in the ethnic Sinhalese majority for ending a long civil war by crushing ethnic Tamil Tiger rebels. However, his time in power was marred by allegations of wartime atrocities, corruption and nepotism.

Tensions had been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena has also accused Wickremesinghe and another Cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him, a charge Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied.

Sirisena was the health minister of Rajapaksa’s government, before he crossed over to the opposition and contested the 2015 presidential election as the common opposition candidate backed by Wickmremesinghe’s party. He defeated Rajapaksa and the duo have been political rivals since then.

His move to appoint Rajapaksa as prime minister astonished many.

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