Ethnic Tamil party pledges vote against Sri Lankan strongman

An ethnic minority Tamil party in Sri Lanka said Saturday that it will support a no-confidence motion to be brought against the country's former strongman whose controversial appointment as prime minister has plunged the country into a political crisis.

The Tamil National Alliance's announcement comes as divergent political parties in Parliament try to thwart Mahinda Rajapaksa from strengthening his position as prime minister. The party said in its statement that Rajapaksa's appointment and President Maithripala Sirisena's suspension of Parliament was undemocratic.

In the statement, the party accused Rajapaksa's government of offering money and ministerial posts to "induce" opposition lawmakers to cross over. A Tamil National Alliance lawmaker, S. Viyalendran, defected on Friday and was appointed as Rajapakasa's deputy minister of regional development.

No specific bribery allegations against Viyalendran were made, but the party condemned him for "being a part of this conspiracy."

The United National Party led by ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has announced plans to propose a no-confidence vote against Rajapaksa as soon as Parliament reconvenes.

The Tamil party's 15 votes could give Wickremesinghe's camp a decisive edge over Rajapaksa.

So far, six members from Wickremesinghe's United National Front have defected to Rajapaksa's government.

Some 121 lawmakers were expected Saturday to support the no-confidence vote, according to a count by The Associated Press.

Sirisena dismissed Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet last week and later announced that he acted in part because Wickremesinghe and a Cabinet colleague were behind an alleged assassination plot against him. Details of the alleged plot have not been disclosed and Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied the accusation.

Sirisena also suspended Parliament until Nov. 16.

Sirisena's moves have triggered a power struggle that some observers have called a constitutional crisis.

Since his ouster, Wickremesinghe has stayed at Temple Trees, the official residence of the prime minister, insisting he is still the legitimate leader because he commands majority support in Parliament.

Wickremesinghe said in an interview with the AP that there is credible evidence that Rajapaksa's party is attempting to buy support in Parliament. Palitha Range Bandara, a United National Party lawmaker, has said that he was offered millions of dollars and a minister portfolio if he crossed over.

Lawmakers from Rajapaksa's party have denied the allegations.

Sirisena is under mounting pressure by his political opponents, rights groups and foreign governments including the United States and European Union to summon Parliament and end the crisis.

Tensions had been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena was also critical of investigations into military personnel accused of human rights violations during Sri Lanka's long civil war, which ended in 2009. Rajapaksa is credited as a hero by Sri Lanka's ethnic Sinhalese majority for ending the conflict with a faction from the ethnic Tamil minority population.

TNA represents ethnic Tamils for whom the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels fought for an independent state.