Sri Lankan top court suspends decree dissolving Parliament

Sri Lanka's Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended the president's order to dissolve Parliament and hold new elections, opening the way for lawmakers to vote on whether to accept his earlier ouster of the prime minister.

Sri Lanka has been in a political crisis since Oct. 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena suddenly fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.

A day later Sirisena suspended Parliament, apparently to allow Rajapaksa time to gather support among lawmakers. But Wickremesinghe insisted his firing was unconstitutional. He refused to vacate his official residence and demanded that Parliament be summoned to prove he still has support.

Amid mounting pressure from political opponents and foreign governments, including the United States and the EU, to convene Parliament to end the impasse, Sirisena announced the legislature would return this Wednesday.

But last Friday, he instead dissolved Parliament and called new elections in January. Opponents said Sirisena made the decision because Rajapaksa had been unable to assemble a majority.

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday to suspend the president's order until Dec. 7 after 13 political parties and individuals filed petitions with the court calling the dissolution unconstitutional. It said it would hold hearings on the case starting Dec. 4.

Opposition supporters welcomed the ruling. Lawmaker Ajith Perera said Parliament will meet as scheduled on Wednesday to prove that Wickremesinghe has the backing of a majority.

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 has also accused Wickremesinghe and another Cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him, a charge Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied.

Sirisena was also critical of investigations into military personnel who were accused of human rights violations during Sri Lanka's long civil war against a Tamil separatist group, which ended in 2009.