Asia Minute: Sri Lanka’s Constitutional Crisis

Nov 16, 2018

Flag of Sri Lanka
Credit Zscout370 / Wikimedia Commons

It’s been three weeks since the president of Sri Lanka fired the Prime Minister and dissolved the country’s parliament. The political upheaval since then has involved every branch of government, including the judiciary. And it’s threatening a key part of the nation’s economy.

Sri Lanka is in the midst of a constitutional crisis.

Three weeks ago, the president fired the prime minister and told the parliament to go home. This past Tuesday, the Supreme Court said that was illegal.

Parliament came back into session Wednesday and passed a no-confidence vote against the new prime minister who was appointed by the president. On Thursday, a fist fight broke out on the floor of parliament, one member pulled a knife; someone else tossed a trash can at the speaker.

There are other complications.

The prime minister who was fired, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has refused to leave the official residence.

The prime minister the president tried to appoint, Mahinda Rajapakasa, is a former political opponent of the president who favors close relations with China.

China has made extensive investments in Sri Lanka – including extending loans that the Colombo government is now unable to repay.

A one and a half billion dollar IMF project has been stalled, foreign aid has been interrupted, and the Sri Lankan rupee hit a new record low on Thursday.

Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon meets with Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe in Sri Lanka on November 6, 2017.
Credit U.S. Department of State / Flickr

Also the longer the political crisis lasts, the deeper the concerns for one of Sri Lanka’s biggest earners of foreign funds: the tourism industry.

Parliament is expected to return to session Friday afternoon local time. And negotiations are underway to resolve the future of the country’s leadership.