COLOMBO, (Reuters) – A Sri Lankan court today issued an order preventing Mahinda Rajapaksa from as acting as prime minister and holding cabinet meetings, the latest twist to a political drama gripping the South Asian country.
The island has been in crisis since President Maithripala Sirisena replaced Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with Rajapaksa in October, and then issued an order dissolving parliament and called for a general election.
Sirisena’s decisions have prompted legal challenges and on Friday the Appeal Court began a hearing a petition signed by 122 legislators that challenges Rajapaksa’s authority to hold office after he lost two no-confidence votes last month.
“An interim order is granted against the first respondent functioning as the prime minister…also issuing interim order against 30 other respondents functioning in their offices,” judge Preethipadhman Surasena said.
Rajapaksa and his cabinet ministers have been asked to appear in court on Dec 12, the judge added.
A spokesman for Rajapaksa was not immediately available for comment.
The decision will put a further brake on Rajapaksa’s disputed government after parliament voted last week to halt payment of ministers’ salaries and travel expenses.
The impasse has pushed the island’s currency to record lows, caused turmoil on its stock and bond markets and raised fears it may not be able to service debts to finance reconstruction following a 26-year civil war that ended in 2009.
But Surasena said the legitimacy of the Rajapaksa government had to be determined first.
“The damage that will be posed by temporarily restraining a lawful cabinet of ministers from functioning would be in all probabilities outweighed by the damage that would be caused by allowing a set of persons who are not entitled in law to function as the prime minister or the cabinet of ministers or any other minister of the government.”
The Supreme Court is separately hearing a petition on whether Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament was constitutional and is expected to give its verdict on Friday.