Sri Lanka's president dissolves parliament, deepening political crisis

Mahinda Rajapaksa Short Of'Magic Number To Prove Majority Spokesperson

Sri Lanka's president dissolved Parliament and called for elections on January 5 in a bid to stave off a deepening political crisis over his dismissal of the prime minister that opponents say is unconstitutional.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who two weeks ago sparked a crisis by sacking the prime minister and installing former authoritarian leader Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place, signed a decree for elections to be held 5 January, almost two years ahead of schedule.

Sirisena signed an official notification dismissing the 225-member assembly with effect from midnight, clearing the way for a snap election almost two years ahead of schedule.

New elections are likely to be held in early January, almost two years earlier than originally planned, a government minister told the AFP news agency.

Despite Sirisena claiming Monday he had the support of 113 legislators in his bid to swap Wickremesinghe for Rajapaksa, the United People's Freedom Alliance-the political bloc led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party-admitted that it only had "104 or 105 MPs" on its side, as AFP reported.

Ousted Sri Lankan prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has refused to leave the premier's official residence.

The incoming head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee warned Sirisena he was jeopardizing USA assistance including a package under discussion through the Millennium Challenge Cooperation, which supports countries that observe democratic norms. President Sirisena then suspended Parliament until November 14.

The United States and the UK have raised concerns over the decision taken by President Maithripala Sirisena to dissolve Parliament.

It was not immediately clear how Sirisena can legally dissolve parliament, though his legal experts have said there are provisions for him to do so.

This is despite several legislators saying they were offered millions of dollars to switch allegiance.

The leftist People's Liberation Front (JVP), which regards the sacking of Wickremesinghe as unconstitutional, accused Sirisena of trying to consolidate his power grab.

Independent legal experts have told Reuters that parliament could be dissolved only in early 2020, which would be four-and-half-years from the first sitting of the current parliament.

Under pressure from the United Nations, United States and the European Union to allow a parliament vote, Sirisena agreed three times to lift the suspension but changed his mind each time.

The EU said Friday, before the dissolution, that the crisis had scarred the Indian Ocean island's global reputation.

Jayasuriya said this week he can't recognize Rajapaksa until he demonstrates a majority in the legislature.

Wickremesinghe late Thursday thanked his supporters and urged them not to give up in the showdown.

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