Australia has expressed alarm about the deepening political crisis in Sri Lanka, with Foreign Minister Marise Payne warning “democratic principles must be upheld in the country”.
President Maithripala Sirisena sent shockwaves through Sri Lanka on Friday when he sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, replacing him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mr Sirisena claims he fired Mr Wickremesinghe because one of his Cabinet ministers was involved in a plot to assassinate him — but the former Prime Minister has dismissed that accusation, and says his sacking was illegal.
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Colombo to demand Mr Sirisena resolve the crisis, while two people were killed during a violent skirmish at the country’s Petroleum Ministry on Sunday.
The Speaker of Sri Lanka’s Parliament has warned of a “bloodbath” if the power struggle is not resolved.
Senator Payne said Australia was concerned about the developments in Sri Lanka, and urged all parties to refrain from violence.
She did not directly criticise Mr Sirisena, but made it clear Australia was deeply uneasy about the way Mr Wickremesinghe was removed.
“It is important that issues be addressed expeditiously through Parliament and that democratic principles and freedoms are upheld,” Senator Payne said.
Sri Lanka consul-general Lal Wickrematunge told the ABC the official word from Colombo the President has acted according to the constitution.
Despite warnings of possible violence, Mr Wickrematunge said he remained confident the situation would be resolved democratically.
“I think always Sri Lanka emerges through this type of crisis in a democratic manner,” Mr Wickrematunge said.
“We have had changes of governments quite peacefully in the past.
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the President had been “shopping around” for a new prime minister since a “humiliating defeat” at local government elections in February.
“[The President] has argued that the revelations with regard to a conspiracy to assassinate him, the questions of the development and expansion of the eastern container port in the Colombo harbour — there are fundamental disagreements with the Prime Minister in respect of dealing with those issues and he had to act,” he said.
“Pressure has been put on the Speaker to reconvene Parliament even though the President has prorogued it.
“The prorogation ends on November 15 and waiting till then will be pretty disastrous, I think, for the country at large.
“So the Speaker really needs to convene Parliament and bring this to a vote in Parliament.”