Ranil Wickremsinghe claimed he was still the prime minister of Sri Lanka, just hours after the swearing in of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, as Sri Lanka plunges into a constitutional crisis.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former Sri Lankan strongman who led a massive military campaign that saw the deaths of tens of thousands of Tamils, was unexpectedly sworn in as Sri Lanka’s prime minister just hours ago. Wickremsinghe's UNP has reportedly called "all UNP MPs in and around Colombo who could make it to Temple Trees" for an urgent meeting that is currently underway.
Photographs show a smiling Rajapaksa, clasping hands with current Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena, as is sworn in to the position.
However, Sirisena’s collation partner and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told News First that despite the swearing in “I am still the Prime Minister of this country”. His comments were echoed by Sri Lanka's cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne.
Update 1940 BST
Wickremesinghe has written to the Sri Lankan President to 'inform' him that he is still Prime Minister.
The letter said:
"I write to inform you that I am the Constitutionally appointed Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and continue in that office and that I command the confidence of Parliament as contemplated in Article 42(4) of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka."
Current finance minister Mangala Samaraweera, another UNP stalwart, said the appointment “is unconstitutional & illegal” and “an anti-democratic coup”.
The resurgence of Rajapaksa, who was with Sirisena’s SLFP until he was ousted from power in 2015, comes as tensions between Sirisena and the UNP have grown in recent months. Rajapaksa meanwhile, has been growing in popularity, with his SLPP party sweeping local polls earlier this year.