Opponents of new Sri Lanka PM take control of key committee

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan lawmakers opposed to new Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa took control of parliament’s main committee on Friday after his supporters walked out, saying the house speaker was biased.

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Since his surprise appointment last month, Rajapaksa has twice lost confidence votes in parliament to lawmakers backing his predecessor Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has challenged his ouster as illegal.

Wickremesinghe has refused to vacate the prime minister’s official residence, while Rajapaksa, a former president who won a civil war against Tamil separatists rebels, has moved into the prime minister’s office.

Wickremesinghe loyalists have moved a motion to slash Rajapaksa’s budget on the grounds that his administration was illegitimate. On Friday, they insisted on a vote to approve a 13-member parliamentary committee that would conduct further business of the house.

The Committee on Selection takes key decisions of the house and appoints other committees in the legislature that could determine the fate of the motion to curb Rajapaksa’s office expense.

Lawmakers loyal to Rajapaska said the formation of the committee was illegal and they accused Speaker Karu Jayasuriya of being biased against them.

They walked out of the chamber just as the composition of the committee was put to vote, leaving Wickremesinghe to win by a margin of 121 votes to nil in the 225-member house.

“The speaker is biased and he has disregarded all the parliament conventions,” Wimal Weerawansa, a Rajapaksa loyalist. told the parliament before the group walked out of the chamber.

Udaya Gammanpila, another Rajapaksa loyalist, said their party would refuse to accept Jayasuriya as the speaker.

The political stalemate has dragged on for nearly a month since President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Wickremensinghe and appointed Rajapaksa in his place. Last week, lawmakers supporting Rajapaksa threw books, chili paste and water bottles at the speaker to try to disrupt a confidence vote.

A vote on the motion to remove funding for staff salaries in Rajapaksa’s administration and other costs is set for Nov. 29.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Darren Schuettler