Lanka govt. admits it lacks majority

Spokesperson, however, says the front is confident of getting enough numbers in floor test

November 09, 2018 09:36 pm | Updated 09:36 pm IST - COLOMBO

In unison: Sri Lanka's newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Maithripala Sirisena at a rally in Colombo.

In unison: Sri Lanka's newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Maithripala Sirisena at a rally in Colombo.

Sri Lanka’s new government on Friday said it had “104 or 105” MPs in the 225-member House, but added it was confident of proving majority in a floor test.

A vote in the House is expected to resolve the two-week old political crisis in Sri Lanka, sparked by President Maithripala Sirisena’s sudden move to withdraw support from the ruling coalition. His subsequent dismissal of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointment of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place has led to the two rival camps vying for the office.

Addressing a media conference at the Prime Minister’s office — which Mr. Rajapaksa took over after he was appointed — spokesman of the Sirisena-Rajapaksa front Keheliya Rambukwella said: “We have about 105 now,” eight lawmakers short of the 113-mark they need in order to prove majority.

Mr. Rambukwella’s remark, the first public admission of the “new government” of lacking majority, comes days after President Sirisena told a party rally that “we have the majority”.

Buying time

Asked how they hoped to command confidence when all the members currently in their United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA)-led front had already been counted, Mr. Rambukwella said they were “relying on cross-overs”, which were “very common”.

When President Sirisena prorogued Parliament until November 16, his critics said it was possibly to buy time for mustering strength in the House. A few lawmakers from the Wickremesinghe-led United National Party (UNP) and one from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have already pledged support to Mr. Rajapaksa and taken up ministerial positions in his new administration.

One member from Mr. Sirisena’s camp has in turn joined the UNP.

A few MPs crossed over to the rival camp and returned to theirs, defecting twice within days.

While President Sirisena has summoned Parliament on November 14, it remains to be seen if the House will take up a vote on that day.

Meanwhile, in addition to local resistance to the sudden changes widely criticised as “unconstitutional”, most international actors, including India, are yet to officially acknowledge the “new government”.

Issuing a joint statement on Thursday, the Delegation of the European Union said it is “essential that Parliament be allowed to demonstrate its confidence by voting immediately when reconvened” as any further delay “could damage Sri Lanka’s international reputation and deter investors.”

Australia’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka tweeted: “Australia is seriously concerned at reports that opportunity for a confidence vote will be denied when #SriLanka’s Parliament reconvenes”.

Countries including the U.S., the UK and India have earlier urged the government to respect democracy and rule of law.

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