Maithripala Sirisena, Sri Lanka’s president, abruptly dissolved parliament on November 9th and called a snap general election. The move capped several weeks of political drama in the Indian Ocean republic as the president has tested—many would say has greatly exceeded—the constitutional limits of his power. The action began on October 26th, when Mr Sirisena abruptly sacked Ranil Wickremesinghe, the elected prime minister and also his ostensible political ally in the ruling coalition. He replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa (pictured), a former strongman president whose regime Mr Sirisena had loudly accused of corruption and even of having plotted to kill him. The flip-flopping president also suspended parliament for three weeks to avoid a debate on his actions, and began to swear in new ministers. The suspension of parliament was widely seen as an indication that the new prime minister did not have the support of majority of MPs.
The three-week pause provided time to win over more parliamentarians, with offers, several of the courted MPs claim, of ministerial posts and millions of dollars. But Mr Wickremesinghe had refused to leave office, on the grounds that only parliament, not the president, has the right to dismiss the prime minister. Domestic protesters and foreign diplomats were also pressing for a parliamentary vote on the change of government. So Mr Sirisena grudgingly called for the legislature to convene on November 14th, two days ahead of his original schedule.
Yet while wooing MPs for this showdown, the president seems to have concluded that he could not even rely on members of his own party, let alone sufficient defectors from that of Mr Wickremesinghe. Mr Rajapaksa seemed certain to fall short of the 113 votes needed for a majority. The speaker of parliament, meanwhile, insisted that there could be no delays, and that he would not recognise Mr Rajapaksa’s government without a floor test.
And so Mr Sirisena took a second dubious step, and dissolved parliament altogether—something a simple reading of the constitution suggests he can only do four-and-a-half years or more into its term.