Sri Lanka plunged deeper into crisis Saturday after President Maithripala Sirisena called a snap election, leaving the country facing a further two months of damaging political paralysis with a pair of bitter rivals claiming to run his government.
In what opponents condemned as an illegal move, Sirisena dissolved parliament on Friday and announced a January election after it became clear his designated prime minister — former president Mahinda Rajapakse — would not be able to command a majority in the current legislature.
Rakapakse and ousted premier Ranil Wikremesinghe, who has refused to leave his post, have been battling for power for two weeks as international concern grows over the mounting turmoil in the strategically important island nation.
Sirisena signed a decree dismissing the island’s 225-member assembly and scheduled parliamentary elections for January 5, nearly two years ahead of schedule.
In a bid to head off any revolt against his action he also suspended parliament.
There was no immediate comment from Wickremesinghe, but his United National Party (UNP) said it will challenge Sirisena’s sacking of the legislature.
“This dissolution by the President is illegal and goes against the constitution,” the UNP said on Twitter. “We will be fighting this to ensure that democracy reigns supreme in the country.”
“He has robbed the people of their rights and the democracy that we have enjoyed,” the UNP said.
Sirisena had come under increased international pressure from the United States, the United Nations and the European Union to allow parliament to vote on which prime minister should form a government.
Washington swiftly criticised Sirisena’s latest move.
The EU said Friday, before the dissolution, that the crisis had scarred the Indian Ocean island’s international reputation.
The EU, in a joint statement with Norway and Switzerland, called for parliament to reconvene and hold an immediate vote.
“Any further delay could damage Sri Lanka’s international reputation and deter investors,” the statement said.
Wickremesinghe late Thursday thanked his supporters and urged them not to give up in the showdown.
“You have not let this country be plunged into the darkness of dictatorship. For this inspiring effort, I want to thank everyone who has risen to fight for democracy and justice,” Wickremesinghe said in a video posted on Facebook.
The power struggle on the island of 21 million people has paralysed much of the administration, according to legislators on both sides of the dispute.