Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena has dissolved the parliament and called for snap general elections amid deepening political crisis in the Indian Ocean country.
The move was prompted late on Friday after Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in a shocking move last month and replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa, a controversial former president.
Wickremesinghe denounced his dismissal as unconstitutional and refused to vacate his official residence, demanding an emergency session to prove he commanded majority among parliament members.
The Sri Lankan president signed an official decree dismissing the 225-member assembly on Friday, just hours after his ruling party admitted that it had failed to muster enough parliamentary support for its designated prime minister.
Sirisena also announced that general elections will be held on 5 January, nearly two years ahead of schedule.
Wickremesinghe has made no immediate comment on the move but his United National Party (UNP) said it would challenge Sirisena's sacking of the legislature.
"This dissolution by the President is illegal and goes against the constitution," the UNP said on Twitter. "We will be fighting this to ensure that democracy reigns supreme in the country."
The party also accused Sirisena of robbing the "people of their rights and democracy.”
Rajapaksa, however, welcomed Sirisena's move, saying in a Twitter post that a "general election will truly establish the will of the people and make way for a stable country.”
The power struggle on the island of 21 million people has paralyzed much of the administration, according to legislators on both sides of the dispute.
Before the dissolution of the Sri Lankan parliament, the European Union said Friday that the protracted political crisis had scarred the Indian Ocean island's international reputation.
In a joint statement with Norway and Switzerland, the 28-member bloc called for parliament to reconvene and hold an immediate vote.
"Any further delay could damage Sri Lanka's international reputation and deter investors," the statement said.
In a video message posted on Facebook on Thursday, Wickremesinghe appreciated his supporters and called on them not to abandon their efforts in restoring democracy in the country.
"In extraordinary numbers and with extraordinary courage you came out on to the streets, you spoke out," Wickremesinghe said. "You have not let this country be plunged into the darkness of dictatorship. For this inspiring effort, I want to thank everyone who has risen to fight for democracy and justice."
Sri Lanka’s regional neighbors and Western nations have called on all political sides in the Indian Ocean country to exercise restraint and respect the constitution.