Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday dissolved the Parliament and called for elections six months ahead of schedule, AP reported. According to the presidential decree signed by Rajapaksa, elections will now be held on April 25.
Rajapaksa, a former defence secretary who won the November 16 General Elections by more than 13 lakh votes, used his constitutional powers to dissolve the 225-member legislature. The Sri Lankan constitution gives powers to dissolve Parliament after completing four-and-a-half years of a five-year term.
“We have received a formal notification dissolving parliament and setting out the election calendar,” an unidentified Election Commission official told PTI. Political parties and independent groups can file nomination papers later in March, he added.
The first session of the newly elected Parliament has been scheduled for May 14. The election campaigning period will coincide with the anniversary of the Easter Sunday bombings on April 21 that killed more than 250 people at churches and hotels.
After coming to power with a landslide victory, Rajapaksa said he was unable to work freely because many of his executive powers had been clipped by an amendment to the constitution that was introduced by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickresinghe’s United National Party government. He also faces restrictions on consolidation of powers because of the opposition that commands a majority in the Sri Lankan Parliament.
Constitutional changes initiated by Rajapaksa’s predecessor had reduced presidential powers by virtually creating two sources of political power in the country – the president and the prime minister. The prime minister was made in-charge of Parliament and the ministers.
Currently, Rajapaksa’s brother and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the prime minister and leads a minority government. The 74-year-old politician had served as Sri Lanka’s prime minister for a few months in 2018 when the country went through a political turmoil.
Rajapaksa will need two-thirds of parliamentary support to pass any changes to the Constitution.
The presidential election of November came at a critical time for Sri Lanka. The government had been in turmoil since President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe last year and replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa, a move that had sparked a three-month constitutional crisis.
This was followed by the Easter Sunday bombings on April 21 that sharpened tensions between majority Sinhalese and minority Muslims in the island. A harsh crackdown on the country’s Muslim minority followed.
After the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was charged with human rights offences – allegations that he has denied. His campaign focused on national security. Among the Sinhalese majority, Rajapaksa is considered a national hero for orchestrating the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009 and bringing an end to the 26-year-long armed conflict. However, he remains deeply unpopular among the Tamil and Muslim communities.