Sri Lanka's ex-strongman leaves president's party

Sri Lanka's ex-strongman leaves president's party
Pro- democratic Sri Lankans take part in a candle light vigil in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. The crowd demanded the restoration of democracy after President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved Parliament and called for fresh elections. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s former strongman and current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa left his longtime political party and joined another on Sunday, in a move that could weaken the country’s president.

Rajapaksa joined the Sri Lanka People’s Front, a party of which he was shadow leader for months.

His move could weaken President Maithripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, of which Rajapaksa had been a longtime member. A large number of SLFP members are likely to join Rajapaksa because he has the biggest following among them.

Sirisena last month sacked his prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and replaced him with Rajapaksa, hoping to cash in on Rajapaksa’s popular support.

Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, who were leading traditionally opposed parties, were part of an awkward coalition government until Wickremesinghe’s sacking on Oct. 26.

Sirisena has dissolved Parliament and called for elections on Jan. 5 in a bid to stave off the deepening political crisis over his dismissal of the prime minister that opponents say is unconstitutional.