COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s Parliament passed a no-confidence vote against the government headed by the hastily sworn-in and bitterly disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, as lawmakers convened Wednesday for the first time since the president dismissed his Cabinet and suspended the legislature last month.
The motion brought by the head of an opposition party could mean that Rajapaksa will have to resign his post but does not necessarily mean the leader whose ousting set off the crisis will be reinstated, creating a power vacuum in the South Asian island nation.
“Rajapaksa’s government will fall,” said Paikiasothy Sarvanamuttu, executive director of the Colombo-based nonpartisan Centre for Policy Alternatives civil society group, and among the petitioners who challenged the constitutionality of President Maithripala Sirisena’s recent actions.
Sarvanamuttu said the no-confidence vote leaves Sirisena with two options — either to reinstate Ranil Wickremesinghe, whom he replaced with Rajapaksa on Oct. 26, as prime minister, or await the decision of the Supreme Court, which is due to issue a ruling on the ouster and subsequent government appointments on Dec. 7.
Lawmakers supporting Wickremesinghe had a visible majority in the chamber on Wednesday, with many wearing shawls emblazoned with the words “For democracy.”
As Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya prepared to let the no-confidence motion be debated, the chamber descended into chaos, with lawmakers supporting Rajapaksa filing into the center of the room shouting political slogans and accusing Jayasuriya of betraying the people’s mandate.
Jayasuriya then said he had no choice but to bypass the debate and take an oral vote, with those in favor clearly voicing more support for the motion than those against it.
Before the results were announced, Rajapaksa walked out of the chamber.
After it became clear last week that Rajapaksa would not survive a no-confidence motion, Sirisena dissolved Parliament, but the Supreme Court on Tuesday had ordered the legislature to keep working until next month.
Namal Rajapaksa, a lawmaker in his father’s United People Freedom Alliance party, told The Associated Press that they “don’t accept this verdict” and will continue as the government.
Rajapaksa supporters outside Parliament shouted: “We need a government!”
Parliament adjourned after the vote and is to reconvene Thursday morning.
Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended Sirisena’s order to dissolve Parliament and hold new elections.
Wickremesinghe, who has been holed up at the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo since his ouster, said at a news conference after the vote that he and his supporters “have proved that there is a purported administration which does not enjoy the support of Parliament. And therefore it’s illegal.”
He said that police and civil servants should cease carrying out orders from the Rajapaksa-led government.
Late Tuesday, Sirisena held a meeting of the Security Council, including the military commander, police chief and defense secretary. Sirisena instructed authorities to maintain peace in the country, according to a statement released by the president’s media team.
Associated Press writer Emily Schmall in New Delhi contributed to this report.