Everything about Sri Lanka’s soaring and uncertain political dilemma
Sri Lanka has been addled from a raging political disaster for almost a month, when President Maithripala Sirisena on October 26 all of a sudden discharged then-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and equipped the recently expelled Mahinda Rajapaksa, the country’s former President, as the new premier.
In a speech in October, days after his political maneuver, Sirisena said that one of Wickremesinghe’s cabinet ministers had been plotting to assassinate him. So Sirisena argued he had no choice but to kick Wickremesinghe out and put someone else in his place.
What makes this situation even stranger is the on-again, off-again alliance between Sirisena and Rajapaksa, the replacement prime minister.
Namal Rajapaksa, the former president’s son, expressed confidence, saying the majority of Sri Lankans supported the new government because the previous cabinet had failed to govern effectively. “If you talk to people who voted for the unity government, they all agree that there is not unity in the unity government,” he said. “But now you will have stability with the new government. People can oppose us, but at the end of the day, we will achieve a solution for the economic and social instability.”
The power struggle has left the Sri Lankan democratic system in rupture, with huge protests being held by the United National Party (UNP), where its members and supporters of Wickremesinghe have consistently called President Sirisena’s move as “unconstitutional”.
It remains unclear whether Mr. Rajapaksa’s return to government would see Sri Lanka shift back to China’s orbit. The former president flew to New Delhi in September and met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to smooth ties. Although China has the deep pockets India does not, many Sri Lankans consider India too geographically near to risk being on poor terms.
By Saturday afternoon, many lawmakers were vowing to stick by Mr. Wickremesinghe, demanding that a formal count be taken in Parliament to determine who held a majority in the house. That’s when Mr. Sirisena announced that he was suspending Parliament. He also dismissed the leaders of several government institutions, replacing them with loyalists.
Sirisena then called for a snap election to be held on January 5. Amidst the political chaos, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court stepped in and suspended Sirisena’s order to dissolve the island nation’s Parliament and calls a snap general election. The court will hear more arguments and would deliver a verdict next month.
The Sri Lankan President remained defiant, saying that he would not re-appoint Wickremesinghe, in what was a move, considered by many, to allow Rajapaksa to buy more time to gain legislators, in order to prove his majority in the Parliament.
China, whose protege is Rajapaksa, was backrolling this entire process.
The political turmoil in Sri Lanka turned messy, when Rajapaksa, was defeated in the Parliament during a `No-Confidence’ motion on November 15. The No-Confidence motion against Rajapaksa was passed after 122 members voted against him in the 225-member House. In an unusual turn of events, the Parliament became a virtual war-zone, when the legislators got into fistfights, hurled objects at each other and even tried to attack Speaker Karu Jayasuriya following Rajapaksa’s loss in the trust vote.
To clinch a majority in Parliament, Mr. Sirisena needs to secure just over half of its 225 seats to form a new government with Mr. Rajapaksa’s party. A tally on Saturday suggested they held only 98 seats.
India’s government also has grown frustrated with Mr. Sirisena, accusing the president of delaying Indian infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka that were seen as diplomatic overtures. And although Indian diplomats recognize Mr. Rajapaksa’s popularity in the country, they are still wary of him.
Following this major upset for Mahinda Rajapaksa, he is using his money and muscle power to obstruct functioning of the House, and also intimidating his opponents and their supporters. An atmosphere of absolute terror now prevails in the country, with the complicity of President Sirisena, who is allowing Mahinda Rajapaksa’s goons a free run.
Legislators supporting Rajapaksa, hurled chairs at police officers and throw chilli powder at the leaders of opposing parties.
With Sirisena vehemently rejecting the no-confidence vote against Rajapaksa, Speaker Jayasuriya said that Sri Lanka as of now does not have a Prime Minister or a Cabinet.
While the Parliament is expected to be reconvened on November 19, there is still no clear sign on whether the political turmoil would come to an end soon.
Under Mr. Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s ties to India frayed while the country grew closer to China, which lent the government billions of dollars for questionable infrastructure projects.
One of those, the Hambantota Seaport, became a symbol of China’s dominance in Sri Lanka, with the Chinese company that built the harbor suspected of funneling money from the project to Mr. Rajapaksa. The harbor failed to attract business and was handed over last year to the state-owned China Harbor Group in a 99-year lease in exchange for debt relief.
The political parties are now waiting for the Supreme Court’s verdict next month to see if the House will be dissolved and elections will be announced or whether the Wickremesinghe-led government will continue in office.
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