COLOMBO, Sri Lanka—The president of Sri Lanka dissolved the country’s Parliament on Friday night and called a snap general election on Jan. 5, a move that critics said was unconstitutional.
President Maithripala Sirisena’s order to dissolve Parliament came in the aftermath of his surprise appointment last month of a former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as premier.
The appointment of Mr. Rajapaksa, an authoritarian figure who ended the country’s civil war, brings back to power a leader who had pivoted the country toward China and was accused by opposition parties of corruption and human-rights violations.
The prime minister ousted in the action, Ranil Wickremesinghe, refused to leave the premier’s official residence and demanded a parliamentary vote to test his support.
With two politicians claiming to be Sri Lanka’s prime minister, the island nation has been caught in a constitutional crisis since last month.
There have been sporadic and peaceful protests during the showdown but some political leaders have warned the backlash could turn violent if the president’s decision to appoint Mr. Rajapaksa is allowed to stand.
Mr. Sirisena said he would reopen Parliament on Nov. 14, possibly for a vote on the country’s premier, but the president may not have the numbers he needs to back the legitimacy of his newly appointed premier.
Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party criticized the dissolution of Parliament as unconstitutional and said it would deepen political uncertainty.
“The president does not understand the repercussions and the impact his actions may have on the country,” UNP spokesman Harin Fernando said.
If Sri Lanka heads to elections, the outcome is far from certain. While the UNP was the largest party in Parliament, the results of recent local elections suggest a strong tilt toward Mr. Rajapaksa’s party.
Politicians and experts say Sirisena’s order to dissolve Parliament doesn’t resolve the constitutional crisis. The president had no right to appoint a new prime minister without a vote in Parliament and no right to dissolve Parliament, they say.
“The dissolution is the second time the Constitution has been violated by the president and the reason for this is because he does not have the required 113 majority. By doing this, he has pulled the country into an abyss,” said Vijitha Herath, a member of Sri Lanka’s Marxist opposition party.