Two men each claim to be the prime minister. Lawmakers are exchanging blows in Parliament. Welcome to Sri Lanka, where the political crisis is getting worse by the week.
The trouble started when President Maithripala Sirisena, fed up with disagreements with his prime minister over money, an alleged conspiracy plot and unresolved issues of wartime crimes against civilians, fired Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet and replaced them with a government headed by a popular former strongman, Mahinda Rajapaksa. But lawmakers balked and twice passed a no-confidence motion. Sirisena, however, refuses to accept that his choice of prime minister has been defeated.
Wickremesinghe says his dismissal is invalid because he still holds a majority in the 225-member Parliament. The dismissal is also disputed because of a latest constitutional change, which lawyers say has taken away presidential powers to dismiss the prime minister.
Despite all the drama and two rival prime ministers, life hasn't collapsed — thanks to the efficient bureaucracy that keeps the wheels of administration turning. Even though there is no Cabinet recognized by Parliament, and despite warnings by Wickremesinghe supporters that state officials should not take orders from Rajapaksa, bureaucrats continue to work with the president who is the chief executive and the ministers appointed by him, officials said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media. However, decisions regarding new projects or purchases involving large sums of money are on hold. The absence of a recognized government has delayed the budget for 2019. Mangala Samaraweera, who was finance minister in Wickremesinghe's Cabinet, said that there will be no legal way of spending money in the coming year without a parliament-approved budget.