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Sirisena set to meet leaders from TNA, Ranil-led front

Speaker discusses ways to end political crisis with President

Following a consistent show of majority by MPs challenging his actions, and a significant offer made by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), President Maithripala Sirisena will hold crucial meetings on Friday to try and resolve Sri Lanka’s month-long political crisis.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya met Mr. Sirisena on Thursday evening to discuss “available avenues for establishing a legitimate government”, and the President conveyed his desire to meet TNA leader R. Sampanthan and leaders of the United National Front (UNF), the Speaker said in a statement.

The front is led by the United National Party (UNP) of Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was deposed from the Prime Minister’s office on October 26 by Mr. Sirisena. In a snap move, the President installed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the office, sparking Sri Lanka’s biggest political crisis since the civil war ended about a decade ago.

The Speaker’s meeting followed Thursday’s parliamentary sitting where a majority of MPs voted to block funds to the office of the Prime Minister, currently occupied by Mr. Rajapaksa. As many as 123 lawmakers voted for the motion, seeking to suspend any financial allocation to his office, even as legislators supporting Mr. Rajapaksa continued boycotting the sitting, citing “breach of parliamentary process”. It was the fifth time that parties opposed to him proved a majority in the House in the past month.

Despite the lack of majority, Mr. Rajapaksa’s Cabinet has been taking policy decisions, including the approval of a ‘vote on account’ this week, for recurrent expenditure of the purported government in early 2019.

Amid the prolonging deadlock, the TNA on Thursday wrote to the President, pledging support from 14 of its MPs to the “restoration of UNF Govt that existed before October 26”, and the “appointment of a UNF nominee” who commands the confidence of the House. The support of the 14 MPs is critical, as both the UNF and the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine have only a little over 100 MPs each in the 225-member House.

“The country is without a Prime Minister, a Cabinet and a lawfully constituted government for more than a month now. In such a situation, we felt we must do something to help resolve the crisis,” Mr. Samapanthan told .

Less than a week ago Mr. Sirisena vowed he would never work with Mr. Wickremesinghe “in his lifetime”, citing a host of personal, political and ideological differences. However, political sources on Thursday indicated that “things may be changing”, referring to a possible shift in the President’s position. All the same, it remains unclear if Mr. Rajapaksa might yet be willing to step down in light of a lack of majority in Parliament.

On Friday, the court of appeal will hear the Quo Warranto petition filed by 122 MPs challenging Mr. Rajapaksa’s disputed appointment.

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