In a second successive blow to President Maithrapala Sirisena, the Sri Lankan Parliament passed a motion of no-confidence in the controversially appointed government of Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday, a day after the Supreme Court overturned a presidential decree dissolving the legislature.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya ruled that a majority of the 225-member House supported the motion against Sri Lanka Freedom Party chief Rajapaksa who was made Prime Minister on Oct 26 in place of United National party leader Ranil Wickremasinghe.
The result does not automatically mean that Wickremasinghe, who had refused to leave the Prime Minister's residence after his ouster by the President, has won the constitutional showdown. Though his party is the biggest in Parliament with 106 members, Sirisena retains the power to choose the next Prime Minister.
Amid chaotic scenes, Rajapakse, 72, and his legislator son Namal walked out of the red-carpeted chamber just before the Speaker called for a vote. Members loyal to Rajapaksa attempted to grab the mace, the symbol of authority of the legislature, to disrupt the vote, but Jayasuriya went ahead.
"I rule that this House does not have confidence in the government (of Rajapaksa),” the Speaker announced over his public address system. Several Rajapaksa Ministers came out of Parliament accusing the Speaker of violating parliamentary norms by holding the crucial vote against their wishes.
The dramatic developments came a day after the Supreme Court in a landmark ruling overturned Sirisena's controversial decision to dissolve Parliament and halted the preparations for snap polls on Jan 5.
A three-member apex court bench, including country's Chief Justice Nalin Perera, delivered its verdict after two days of deliberations on as many as 13 petitions against and five for Sirisena's Nov 9 decision to dissolve Parliament.
All petitions filed will be heard from December 4 to 6 and a final ruling will be given on Dec 7, the apex court ruled. Till then, Sirisena's dissolution of Parliament will stay suspended, it said. The Supreme Court ruling paved for the Parliament to meet and take a floor test to determine if Rajapaksa had a majority.
Reacting to the Supreme Court's ruling, Wickremasinghe said:" The court has held that Constittion cannot be trampled upon. The people have won their first victory. Let's go forward and re-establish the sovereignty of the people".
Though it is a victory for Ranil Wickrremasinghe and a setback to Sirisena and Rajapaksa, the stalemate will continue as the country will not have a new Prime Minister for a while.
Ranil can stake claim again only if he gets the support of the Tamil National Alliance which has 16 members in the House which will help his UNP with 106 members cross the halfway mark.
Though the President can refuse to swear Ranil in, he will eventually have to give in as India as well the US and the European Union have called for restoration of democracy in the country.
A major point in favour of Ranil is that his rival contender Rajapaksa has quit SLFP, which has 95 members and still way short of majority, and joined the newly formed Sri Lanka People's party in the hope of early election that has now been halted by the top court.