Court rules Rajapaksa can't take decisions as PM

Tuesday 04th December 2018 12:59 EST

COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan court has issued an order preventing Mahinda Rajapaksa from acting as prime minister and holding cabinet meetings. The island nation has been gripped in a political battle for over a month, ever since President Maithripala Sirisena replaced Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with Mahinda Rajapaksa. Things took a dramatic turn last Friday, when Sri Lanka’s parliament voted to halt payment of ministers’ salaries and travel expenses. Friday’s motion, which passed 122 to none in the 225-member parliament, followed a similar vote on Thursday to cut the budget to the Prime Minister’s office. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, ministers boycotted the vote on the pretext that the motion was illegal.

The motion was particularly to prohibit top civil servants from paying out salaries and travel expenses. Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said, “The motion to cut down the expenditures of ministers, deputy ministers, and state ministers is passed”. He earlier said he would officially inform ministry secretaries of the decision. The motions presented on Thursday and Friday are based on the assumption Rajapaksa has been sacked, thus he deems them illegal. As per the statement from one of the senior civil servant from a government ministry, it was unclear how such a vote would be applied in practice because there were questions over whether due process had been followed. In a repeat of Thursday’s actions, Rajapaksa loyalists criticized the vote and called into question the impartiality of the speaker.

Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, a minister in Rajapaksa’s disputed government, told reporters before the proceedings started. “The motion presented today is illegal and we have mentioned it to the speaker too. We will not attend such illegal motions”. Rajapaksa’s party argued that its government should remain in power because the president never accepted the no confidence votes. Later, Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe met in the parliament and according to the sources close to them, “They spoke about the way forward.” The Appeal Court on last Friday began a hearing on a petition signed by 122 legislators which were against Rajapaksa’s authority to hold office after he lost two no confidence votes earlier this month.

According to another source, adding that the impasse was unlikely to break before a court ruling on whether President Sirisena’s Nov. 9 decision to dissolve parliament was constitutional. That verdict is expected on Dec. 7.

"An interim order is granted against the first respondent functioning as the prime minister...also issuing interim order against 30 other respondents functioning in their offices," said Judge Preethipadhman Surasena. Rajapaksa and his cabinet ministers have been asked to appear in court on Dec 12, the judge added.

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