Mahinda Rajapaksa, one of Sri Lanka’s two dueling prime ministers. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images.
A truly astonishing scene unfolded, with Speaker of the House Karu Jayasuriya entering Parliament flanked by police officers, who were ambushed by Rajapaksa’s supporters. Here’s a description of what took place, as reported in the Guardian:
As Rajapaksa watched from his chair, his MPs attacked the officers with chairs and books, injuring up to 11 of them. Other legislators tipped the Speaker’s ceremonial chair to the floor and dragged it across the ground.Taking refuge on a side bench and surrounded by police, Jayasuriya called for a voice vote on the no-confidence motion in Rajapaksa. A roar erupted across the chamber and the Speaker declared the vote carried by a majority.
Rajapaksa rejected the outcome of the second vote, and the president did as well, according to his spokesperson.
So what happens next?
On Friday, Sirisena tweeted that he wanted Parliament to uphold democracy and parliamentary traditions.
I urge all Parliamentarians to uphold principles of democracy parliamentary traditions at all times. I will not prorogue the Parliament under any circumstances.
It’s a somewhat odd sentiment coming from the person who instigated this intensifying political crisis.
Violence in Parliament has derailed the body from being able to choose its rightful prime minister. Each side is blaming the other for the chaos, though opponents of Rajapaksa are accusing his supporters of fomenting the unrest because he still doesn’t have majority support.
The conflict in Parliament underscores larger tensions that have ratcheted up in the country since Sirisena swapped prime ministers on October 26. The week after his move, thousands of protesters flocked to Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, to demand that Sirisena call Parliament back into session and end this self-inflicted constitutional crisis.
The rallies have largely been peaceful, but violent clashes have broken out — most notably on October 28, when one of the deposed ministers tried to reenter a government building and encountered supporters rallying for Rajapaksa. The pro-Rajapaksa crowd tried to block the minister from entering the building, and a bodyguard fired into the crowd, killing one person.
But the continued risk for violence is particularly acute in Sri Lanka, whose history is punctuated with ethnic conflict. Rajapaksa was president during the end of the country’s civil war, and experts worry that if Rajapaksa prevails in the power struggle, it could heighten ethnic tensions against Tamils and other minorities, as he’s been known to stoke Buddhist nationalism.
Western governments, including the United States, have largely condemned Sirisena’s bizarre power swap. The US Embassy in Colombo denounced Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Parliament over the weekend. “There is much at stake and such actions jeopardize Sri Lanka’s economic progress and international reputation,” the embassy said in a statement. “We call on the President to respect his country’s democratic tradition and the rule of law.”
Meanwhile, China seems just fine with finding an old ally suddenly back in power; Beijing was quick to congratulate Rajapaksa. It’s a sign that the region’s rivals, India and China, are closely watching the developments in Sri Lanka for their own geopolitical gain.