COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has declared President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Parliament unconstitutional. Sirisena’s opponents and rule-of-law activists hailed the unanimous ruling, but it did not end a months-long political stalemate that has kept Sri Lanka without a functional government.
Here’s a look at how Sri Lanka has plunged into a political crisis and what could happen next.
The conflict began when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked then-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place. Wickremesinghe said Sirisena didn’t follow the constitution in removing him and claimed to still be the lawful prime minister. Rajapaksa sought to secure a majority in Parliament but failed. In response, Sirisena dissolved Parliament and ordered new elections, but those actions were put on hold by the Supreme Court until it heard the case and delivered its judgment Thursday.
After the court suspended the dissolution, Parliament reconvened and passed two no-confidence votes against Rajapaksa, but he held on to office with Sirisena’s backing. Parliament also voted to block funds for him and his Cabinet.
Lawmakers opposing Rajapaksa took the fight to the Court of Appeal, which suspended Rajapaksa and his Cabinet from functioning in their positions until it concludes the case. Rajapaksa asked the Supreme Court to end the suspension, but it rejected the request on Friday.
WHAT COULD HAPPEN
Sirisena has resisted suggestions that he reappoint Wickremesinghe, who has shown he has the support of 117 lawmakers, a majority of the 225-member Parliament. Reappointing Wickremesinghe would allow a functioning government and Parliament. It would also allow lawmakers to dissolve Parliament by a two-thirds vote and hold new elections.
Lawmakers could also attempt to impeach Sirisena on the basis of the Supreme Court ruling that his order to dissolve Parliament violated the constitution. But it may be difficult to obtain the required support of two-thirds of Parliament’s members to approve an impeachment motion.
IMPACT OF A PROLONGED CRISIS
Without a functioning government, the national budget for 2019 can’t be approved. That means that after Jan. 1 there would be no funds for public programs and no salaries for government employees. A $1 billion foreign debt repayment is due early next year and it is not clear if that can be paid without a finance minister legally in place.