Sri Lanka MPs brawl in parliament as new PM contests result of no-confidence vote

Speaker forced to abandon session as fighting goes on for 20 minutes

Adam Withnall@adamwithnall
Thursday 15 November 2018 07:58
Sri Lanka Parliament brawl after no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa

A fight broke out among rival MPs in Sri Lanka’s parliament on Thursday, one day after it passed a vote of no confidence in the new prime minister controversially installed by Sri Lanka’s president.

The speaker, Karu Jayasuriya, said the country had no government after Wednesday’s vote, and no prime minister – neither the newly appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa nor his rival and predecessor Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was ousted by the president Maithripala Sirisena last month.

Moments later, MPs came to blows next to the speaker’s chair in undignified scenes captured on video within the chamber. More than 50 MPs were involved in the fight and some who fell on the floor were kicked by rivals.

Mr Rajapaksa sat a short distance away as the fight took place, with some of his supporters using water bottles and bins as projectiles. Earlier he said in a statement that “such important matters” like a motion of no confidence should be carried with a formal vote, not a voice vote as was used, and reiterated his call for fresh elections.

“We expect the speaker to be an independent speaker and not a close friend of your party or the west,” Mr Rajapaksa told parliament, referring to the speaker’s United National Party which is led by ousted leader Mr Wickremesinghe. “We want a general election.”

He also alleged the previous government led by ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was corrupt.

The subsequent turmoil lasted for 20 minutes and, after the fight spiralled out of control, the speaker adjourned proceedings of the house and left the chamber.

Dilum Amunugama, an ally of Mr Rajapaksa, was taken to a hospital after sustaining injuries to his hand while trying to pull out a microphone from the speaker’s table.

President Sirisena, who triggered the crisis by firing Mr Wickremesinghe and naming Mr Rajapaksa to the job late last month, dissolved parliament last week and ordered elections as a way to break the deadlock.

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But the Supreme Court ordered a suspension of that decree on Tuesday until it had heard petitions challenging the move as unconstitutional.

After Thursday’s debacle, the speaker held a meeting with party leaders and agreed to convene parliament again next Wednesday, Sri Lankan media reported.

Chandani Kirinde, a senior correspondent of the Sunday Times, a weekly paper in Sri Lanka, said the speaker “came very close to being physically assaulted” during the brawl.

“While clashes have happened in the house, this is probably the first time the speaker came under so much intimidation and abuse,” he said.

Observers are concerned that the ongoing political crisis in Sri Lanka could hurt the nation’s economy, already expanding at its lowest rate for more than a decade, not least because it could put off vital tourist visitors.

Tensions had been building for months even before Mr Sirisena sacked Mr Wickremesinghe on 26 October, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister.

Mr Sirisena has also accused Mr Wickremesinghe and another cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him, a charge Mr Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied.

Mr Rajapaksa, a former strongman leader under whose rule Sri Lanka achieved its 2009 victory in a decades-long conflict against rebels from the Tamil minority, is seen as a hero by many among Sri Lanka’s Buddhist majority. He has been accused by diplomats of human rights abuses during the war, which he denies.

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