In Brief

How Sri Lankan parliament descended into violence

Lawmakers brawl as anger grows over ousting of democratically elected leader last month

The parliament of Sri Lanka descended into violent chaos today, with MPs punching and kicking each other in an eruption of anger over the country’s ongoing constitutional crisis.

In late October, democratically elected prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was removed from office by President Maithripala Sirisena and replaced with Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom Bloomberg describes as a “pro-China strongman”. 

Sirisena also dismissed Wickremesinghe’s cabinet and suspended parliament, the BBC adds.

Rajapaksa, who served as president from 2005 to 2015, has long been a controversial figure in the country. In 2009 he brought an end to Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war through a military operation that “killed up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians”, Al Jazeera reports. His government was also accused of murdering political opponents and of widespread corruption.

Meanwhile, Wickremesinghe, who has been PM since 2015, has refused to step down to make way for Rajapaksa, leading to divisions in parliament.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court suspended Sirisena’s order to dissolve parliament and hold snap elections. The following day, a no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa passed with the backing of 122 MPs in the 225-member legislature.

As parliament reconvened today for the first time since the suspension, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya told the chamber that the country had “no government” and “no prime minister” - a declaration that kick-started the brawl.

According to ABC News, more than three dozen politicians fought and some who fell on the floor were “kicked by rivals”. One Rajapaksa loyalist was “cut as he tried to take the speaker’s microphone, bloodying his shirt”, adds The Guardian.

Harsha de Silva, an MP from Wickremesinghe’s United National party, said the violence marked “the most shameful day in parliament”.

The assembly has now been adjourned until Friday afternoon.

As Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith concludes: “It is difficult to say who is in charge in Sri Lanka. Now we are left with a power vacuum.” 

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