Mangala Samaraweera from the country's largest United National party says the decision of President Maithripala Sirisena, who dismissed the entire parliament in a midnight manoeuvre, will be challenged in the court.

Supporters of ousted Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe shout slogans as they gather at the prime minister's official residence in Colombo on November 10, 2018.
Supporters of ousted Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe shout slogans as they gather at the prime minister's official residence in Colombo on November 10, 2018. (AFP)

Sri Lanka's largest single party on Saturday said it will mount a legal challenge against President Maithripala Sirisena's shock sacking of the legislature.

"We will go to the courts," Mangala Samaraweera from the United National Party (UNP) told reporters in Colombo. "We will fight in the courts, we will fight in parliament and we will fight at the polls."

Sri Lankans woke up on Saturday to the news that President Sirisena had dissolved parliament in order to hold elections on January 5.

Many Colombo residents said an election was the only way to help put an end to the political crisis which started after the president sacked elected Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe and replaced him with former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

Wickremsinghe has refused to vacate the official prime minister's residence saying he is the prime minister with parliamentary majority.

'There has to be some change'

"It is a good thing that parliament has been was dissolved. One party says that this party has thieves. This party says the other party has thieves. We don't need a referendum or anything else. What we (voters) want is to show our preference," said Asoka Sudath, a labourer.

"We feel the economic difficulties very severely. There has to be some change," said Ranjit Kulasingha, a newspaper stand owner.

Sacked PM and the United National Party leader Ranil Wickremsinghe has refused to vacate the official prime minister's residence saying he is the prime minister with parliamentary majority.
Sacked PM and the United National Party leader Ranil Wickremsinghe has refused to vacate the official prime minister's residence saying he is the prime minister with parliamentary majority. (Reuters Archive)

Independent legal experts say that parliament could be dissolved only in early 2020, which would be four-and-half-years from the first sitting of the current parliament.

The only other legal way would be through a referendum, or with the consent of two thirds of lawmakers.

Given those views, it was not immediately clear how Sirisena is on legal safe ground by dissolving parliament, though his legal experts have said there are provisions for him to do so.

India and West concerned

The US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs said democracy needed to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity.

Mark Field, the British minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, tweeted his concern about the dissolution of parliament days before it was due to be reconvened.

Canada's foreign policy twitter feed said that it was "deeply concerned" about the decision and referred to the risks to reconciliation work after the nation's civil war.

"This further political uncertainty is corrosive to Sri Lanka’s democratic future and its commitments on reconciliation and accountability," it said.

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne expressed both concern and disappointment in a statement, saying the move "undermines Sri Lanka's long democratic tradition and poses a risk to its stability and prosperity".

Sirisena has said he fired Wickremesinghe because the prime minister was trying to implement "a new, extreme liberal political concept by giving more priority for foreign policies and neglecting the local people's sentiment".

India and the West have raised concerns over Rajapaksa's close ties with China.

Beijing loaned Sri Lanka billions of dollars for infrastructure projects when Rajapaksa was president between 2005-2015, putting the country deep into debt.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies