In a big setback to President Maithripala Sirisena, a Sri Lankan court on Monday barred Mahinda Rajapaksa from acting as Prime Minister. Sirisena had appointed his former rival, Rajapaksa, in place of Ranil Wickremesinghe in a controversial decision that sparked a constitutional crisis in the county.
The Court of Appeal temporary halted Rajapaksa and his Cabinet from functioning in their positions in response to a case filed by 122 legislators against the disputed government. The court will next hear the case on December 12 and 13.
"According to the interim relief, Rajapaksa and his disputed government have been prevented from acting as PM, cabinet and deputy ministers," said a lawyer, who was present at the hearing.
He added that the court was of the opinion that "irreparable damage" could be caused if persons not entitled to do so sit as prime minister and cabinet ministers.
More than 120 parliamentarians of Wickeremesinghe's United National Party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Tamil National Alliance last month filed a petition in the Court of Appeal challenging Rajapaksa's authority as the prime minister.
Sri Lanka was plunged into a political crisis after Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe on October 26 and replaced him with Rajapaksa. Wickremesinghe, who dubbed the move as a "constitutional coup", refused to vacate his official residence, saying he was the lawful prime minister and that the president has no constitutional right to replace him.
His request for a floor test to prove his majority in the House has been turned down. He cited the 19th amendment to the Constitution in which the president has been barred from sacking a prime minister or dissolving parliament before the expiry of its four and a half years term. After Wickremesinghe's sacking, Sirisena suspended parliament until November 16.
On November 9, Sirisena dissolved parliament, paving the way for a general election to be held on January 5, nearly two years ahead of its time. The Supreme Court overturned Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Parliament and halted the preparations for snap polls.
Prior to the crisis, Wickramasinghe’s UNP had the backing of 106 parliamentarians, while Rajapaksa and Sirisena combine had 95 seats.
Rajapaksa has, so far, failed to prove his majority in Parliament.
(With PTI inputs)