Will the reinstatement of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe end Sri Lanka's political crisis?

Image from the We Want Democracy – Coalition Citizen Protest at Lipton Circle, Colombo on December 12. Image via Groundviews. Used under a content sharing agreement.

On Sunday, December 16, 2018, ousted Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was reinstated, possibly ending a nearly two-month-long political crisis.

Earlier, on Saturday, December 15, 2018, disputed prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned following a court verdict which barred him from the position and questioned his appointment.

Wickremesinghe tweeted:

Incumbent president Maithripala Sirisena, who had precipitated the constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka by removing  Wickremesinghe as prime minister on October 26 and appointing the former president and opposition Member of Parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa to replace him, defended his actions, saying:

President Sirisena suspended the country’s parliament for three weeks and dissolved the cabinet of ministers.  Wickremesinghe protested his removal, claiming it was unconstitutional, with many supporters rallying behind him and demanding the reconvening of the parliament for a floor test. See Groundviews’ timeline of the constitutional crisis.

Sri Lankan citizens protested almost every day since the start of the crisis, taking a stand for democracy.

President Maithripala Sirisena responded to the pressure and reconvened parliament on November 14, but rejected two no-confidence motions against Rajapaksa. Ranil Wickremasinghe and 121 other parliamentarians then went to court seeking a writ of quo warranto, which would require Rajapaksa to show what authority empowers him to exercise the office of prime minister. On December 3, a Sri Lankan Appeals Court issued an interim injunction restraining Rajapaksa from the office of prime minister until the petition challenging his appointment was heard.

On December 13, a historic judgment was passed which reinstated parliament and directed the President to rescind the appointment of MP Rajapaksa as prime minister.

A blog post on Groundviews quoted attorney-at-law Dinesha Samaratne, who said that the Supreme Court decision should be welcomed and celebrated:

The Parliament stands and its declaration of no-confidence in MP Rajapakse (through two separate motions) and its declaration of confidence in Prime Minister Wickremesinghe clarifies that Ranil Wickremesinghe continues to enjoy the confidence of a majority in Parliament. The only way forward is for the President to rescind his purported appointment of MP Rajapakse as Prime Minister and his purported appointment of a Cabinet of Ministers. The status quo prior to 26th October has to be restored.

The Groundviews story also quoted attorney-at-law Luwie Ganeshathasan, who said that:

The decision re-affirmed that Sri Lankan citizens had a right to be governed according to the Constitution as well as a right to participate in elections according to established procedures of the law, as opposed to on the whim of one individual.

Ashraf Hegazy and Gary Milante noted in Groundviews that the political crisis went largely remained unnoticed in the international press, but that:

How Sri Lankans have responded to these events demonstrates the resilience that they have built into their systems of government and social norms.

On December 16, netizen recalled on President Sirisena's November statement that he would resign immediately if Wickremesinghe came back.

According to media reports, a new cabinet will be sworn in on December 17, 2018, and will include six parliamentarians from Rajapaksa and Sirisena's factions of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP) has said that it is ready to work once more with President Maithripala Sirisena, who was “misled by some groups” against the unity government. In August 2015, Sirisena and Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Wickremesinghe-led United National Party (UNP) created a national government after signing an agreement.

On his blog, Sri Lankan poet, critic, journalist and political commentator Malinda Seneviratne asked the important question about what will happen after the verdict:

Where do we stand right now? Well, the President cannot dissolve Parliament arbitrarily. Parliament itself is at a standstill thanks to the antics of the Parliamentarians, a clearly partisan Speaker, a stubborn President and a court order. We will have to wait and see if the key players in the drama can rise above their personal and political agenda to resolve things.

It remains unclear that how this political crisis and the differences between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe will play out in this “new government”.

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