Mahinda Rajapaksa | Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Mahinda Rajapaksa staged a dramatic political comeback on Friday, becoming Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister after President Maithripala Sirisena sacked premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, triggering angry reactions from him and the finance minister who termed the former strongman’s return as “unconstitutional and illegal”.
Visuals of the former president Rajapaksa taking oath as the premier were released to media and was shown on TV channels.
Rajapaksa, 72, tweeted a photo of him and Sirisena after the swearing in ceremony. “Former #SriLanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa sworn in as new Prime Minister,” he said in the tweet.
The sudden development came after Sirisena’s broader political front United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) announced that it has decided to quit the current unity government with prime minister Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP).
Mahinda Amaraweera, agriculture minister and the general secretary of the UPFA, told reporters that the UPFA decision has been conveyed to Parliament.
Reacting sharply to the development, dislodged premier Wickremesinghe termed the swearing in of Mahinda Rajapaksa as new prime minister as “illegal and unconstitutional”.
In a telephonic conversation with a TV station, Wickremesinghe said: “I will continue to be the prime minister. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s appointment is unconstitutional.”
Wickremesinghe’s views were echoed by Minister of Finance and Media Mangala Samaraweera, who in a tweet said: “This is an anti democratic coup.” The unity government was formed in 2015 when Sirisena was elected President with Wickremesinghe’s support, ending a nearly decade-long rule by Rajapaksa.
The sudden political development ends an over three-year-old coalition government that was formed by Sirisena and Wickremesinghe on a promise to combat corruption and financial irregularities. Sirisena, who was Rajapaksa’s minister of health, broke away from him to contest the presidential elections. Political analysts said Sirisena’s move to install Rajapaksa as the prime minister could lead to a constitutional crisis as the 19th amendment to the Constitution would not allow the sacking of Wickremesinghe as the premier without a majority.