Sri Lanka's top court stays president's order to sack parliament

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended a presidential decree to dissolve parliament and hold fresh elections, heightening the country’s political uncertainty.

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Later on Tuesday, Karu Jayasuriya, the speaker of Parliament said the legislature would reconvene at 10 a.m. (0430 GMT) on Wednesday, as originally scheduled.

Sri Lanka has been in political turmoil since President Maithripala Sirisena fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last month and appointed a pro-China former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his place.

Sirisena, facing international pressure, reconvened parliament on Nov. 14, but on Friday, he suddenly dissolved it and ordered a general election for Jan. 5.

But the Supreme Court, hearing petitions by supporters of Wickremesinghe, stayed the latest presidential orders until Dec. 7. It will decide then on the petitions challenging the decree.

Sirisena did not have the authority to sack parliament, according to a constitutional amendment passed in 2015, the petitioners said.

Sirisena’s supporters said the coalition government had failed to deliver on its promises and an election was the best course.

Sirisena soon after the court decision met the security council in a bid to maintain peace and order, local media said.

Nimal Siripala, an ally of Sirisena said an application will be made to the Supreme Court to refer the matter for the five-member full bench. The Tuesday verdict was decided by a three-member bench.

The instability in the island nation of 21 million people has raised concerns for its economy, already expanding at its slowest pace in more than a decade.

Wickremesinghe welcomed the court’s decision as being in line with the constitution. “You can’t play football with the constitution and you can’t bend the constitution as and how you want.”

He said parliament should open on Wednesday, when he hoped to prove his majority.

However, Sirisena’s allies said a vote of confidence cannot be decided by the parliament speaker.

“This is just an interim order and not the final decision,” Faiszer Musthapha, a lawmaker and legal expert told reporters.

“The process is you have to bring a no confidence motion against Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and defeat.”

Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Matthew Mpoke Bigg