Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP) — Pandemonium reigned in Sri Lanka’s Parliament on Friday as lawmakers supporting disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa threw books and chairs to try to block the proceedings a day after a fierce brawl between rival legislators worsened political turmoil in the island nation.
Police who escorted Speaker Karu Jayasuriya into the chamber held boards around him to protect him from being hit by the angry Rajapaksa loyalists, who did not allow him to sit in the speaker’s chair.
Jayasuriya, using a microphone, conducted the proceedings while standing on the floor of Parliament, which for the second time passed a no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa and his government by a voice vote. Jayasuriya then adjourned the house until Monday.
Lawmakers loyal to Rajapaksa hooted and continued to hurl abuse at Jayasuriya until he left the chamber. Arundika Fernando, a lawmaker allied with Rajapaksa, sat in the speaker’s chair while others shouted slogans.
Opposition lawmaker R. Sampathan accused Rajapaksa loyalists of preventing a roll-call vote on the motion, as requested by President Maithripala Sirisena.
On Thursday, Sirisena held an emergency meeting with the leaders of the opposition parties that voted for the first no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa and asked them to take up the motion again and allow it to be debated and then put to a roll-call vote.
Sirisena held the meeting following the chaos in Parliament on Thursday, when rival lawmakers exchanged blows, leaving one injured, after the speaker announced the country had no prime minister or government because of Wednesday’s no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa.
Rajapaksa has refused to accept the no-confidence motion, also saying it should not have been done by voice vote. He also insisted the speaker had no authority to remove him and said he is continuing in his role as prime minister.
Sri Lanka has been in a political crisis since Oct. 26, when Sirisena abruptly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapaksa. Wickremsinghe says he still has the support of a majority in Parliament.
Rajapaksa, a former president, is considered a hero by some in the ethnic Sinhalese majority for ending a long civil war by crushing ethnic Tamil Tiger rebels. However, his time in power was marred by allegations of wartime atrocities, corruption and nepotism.
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.