Sri Lankan PM and 44 former MPs resign from party led by president before election

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and 44 former lawmakers have left the party led by President Maithripala Sirisena, separating from the president just two weeks after Rajapaksa was installed.

FILE PHOTO – The profile images of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa (R), newly appointed, and President Maithripala Sirisena, are visible on a wall at the Prime Minister's office at a press conference in Colombo , Sri Lanka, November 10, 2018. REUTERS / Dinuka Liyanawatte

Sirisena dissolved parliament on Friday night and called for a general election on 5 January, drawing criticism from the international community that may aggravate the political crisis in the country.

An intense power struggle has erupted in Sri Lanka over the last two weeks following the sudden dismissal of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe by Sirisena and the appointment in his place of former leader Rajapaksa, a strong supporter of China .

Rajapaksa and 44 former Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) deputies led by Sirisena joined Sri Lanka's Podujana Peremuna (SLPP), a political party formed in 2016 by Rajapaksa's younger brother, Basil, a former minister of justice. # 39; Save.

A SLPP source said that 65 of the 82 former SLFP deputies would eventually join the new party.

Namal Rajapaksa, former legislator and son of Rajapaksa, said that Sirisena had not pursued the SLFP's policy in the coalition government with the United National Party (UNP), led by Wickremesinghe.

"We all decided it was the right time to join the SLPP," he told Reuters.

The SLPP recorded a landslide victory in local polls in February after Rajapaksa supported it. He did it while staying in the SLFP.

Sirisena's allies told Reuters he wanted a government led by the SLFP. The defections will weaken the party of Sirisena, more than seven years old, they say.

Rohana Piyadaya, secretary general of the SLFP, refused to comment on the defections.

Sirisena's decision to overthrow parliament has sparked international criticism.

Farhan Haq, spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, said in a statement that Guterres had stressed the utmost importance of respecting democratic processes and institutions and of resolving disputes in accordance with the rule of law and respect for legality.

"He reiterates his call to the Government to ensure the peace and security of all Sri Lankans and to respect its commitments on human rights, justice and reconciliation," said the spokesman.

Sirisena had previously left the SLFP, then led by Rajapaksa, in 2014 to join an opposition coalition that had toppled Rajapaksa.

Later, Sirisena joined the SLFP, took over and formed a national government with the Wickremesinghe party.

However, a divergence has developed between the policy towards China and India – Wickremesinghe has favored Indian investments to counter Chinese incursions into infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka – and over the years. Sirisena's intention to contest the presidential election of 2020 under the party Wickremesinghe.

Report by Shihar Aneez; Additional report by Ranga Sirilal; Edited by Martin Howell and Toby Chopra

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