After a controversial move where Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena’s fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, replacing him with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President also dissolved Parliament and called for a snap general election. Sirisena’s actions have been criticized as unconstitutional, and Wickremesinghe has refused to leave his position as Prime Minister. Sirisena dissolved Parliament after it was announced that he did not have enough votes in support of his chosen prime minister. He originally suspended Parliament until November 16, delaying the possibility to test the majority. Now, Sirisena calls for a general election on January 5, two years ahead of schedule. This is seen as an attempt to buy time to gain enough votes and preserve his power.
Sirisena defended his actions, saying he did not want “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” and that instead voters should have “the ultimate decision by choosing their members to the Parliament through a free and fair election.” Sirisena was also supported by Dayasiri Jayasekara, a cabinet minister, who said on Twitter that “a general election will truly establish the will of the people and make way for a stable country.” Citizens had mixed views on Sirisena’s actions. One woman said that she was protesting “because if they can change the prime minister in such an arbitrary manner overnight, they can do anything they want, and that scares me,” while another said that “the only way out” of the economic strain caused by the fight over the prime minister’s position “is a general election.”
Many have said that Sirisena’s firing of Wickremesinghe is unconstitutional. Constitutional expert Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama said that “under the constitution, as amended three years ago, the president does not have the power to remove the prime minister.” Wickremesinghe and the United National Party (UNP) wanted a parliamentary vote rather than a national election, Wickremesinghe saying that “this type of crisis really causes a big issue for the people, a lack of confidence. Look, you promised to restore democracy, you’ve done so many steps, and here in the main question, you disregard the powers of parliament.” There is also international concern, with Mark Field, the UK’s Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, saying in a statement that the UK is “concerned by news that Sri Lanka’s Parliament has been dissolved days before it was due to be reconvened… the UK calls on all parties to uphold the constitution and respect democratic institutions and processes.”
While giving people a vote is good, Sirisena has called for this election in such a controversial way and this does not bode well for Sri Lanka’s democracy. It sets a dangerous precedent to call for general election purely for political benefit when numbers are favourable.
Sri Lanka’s 25-year civil war ended in 2009. To maintain peace, there needs to be political stability. Sirisena’s replacement of the prime minister may be a political coup and this undermines the democratic system. It is good to have elections so people’s voices can be heard, but to maintain stability, elections should follow the constitution, not the whims of political leaders seeking their own gain.