The date should have been one to celebrate: April 23rd was the hundredth day since Maithripala Sirisena formed a government after winning a fraught presidential election, in January, as the head of a broad coalition of parties. The surprising victory was rightly feted as a democratic triumph. It ended nearly ten years of authoritarian, nepotistic rule by Mahinda Rajapaksa, the man who in 2009 inflicted a military defeat on Tamil Tiger rebels. Mr Sirisena had promised, however, to build a “new country” in his first hundred days. He has a long way to go.
The change of government offered a chance to face up to Sri Lanka’s bloody past, including atrocities during the war with the rebels. Optimists said that public institutions could again become accountable and that waste and corruption could be cut. But to achieve this, Mr Sirisena would have to wield real authority. He has not. Mr Rajapaksa’s previous ruling coalition boasted a two-thirds majority in the 225-seat Parliament. The new administration has only managed to cobble together diverse and disloyal groups.
Divisions within the coalition have prevented the government fulfilling its grand promises for its early months. Mr Sirisena has fallen short on pledges to pass a right-to-information bill, to amend the constitution to trim the powers of (on paper, in Mr Sirisena’s case) an overweening presidency, and to form independent commissions to run elections, appoint judges and oversee the police. A constitutional amendment was drafted, but the Supreme Court said changing the president’s powers required a two-thirds parliamentary majority, plus public support in the form of a referendum. Rather than attempt the impossible, the government diluted the bill. Even so, it has got nowhere.
Mr Rajapaksa, meanwhile, has not faded away. His morale is high, lifted by queues of fawning fans who visit his village home. Many are provided with transport to his increasingly frequent public events. The media give him plenty of attention. His extended family still wields clout, despite the arrest by financial police on April 22nd of Basil Rajapaksa, one of his brothers, who used to be in charge of the economy.
On April 21st legislators handed a petition to Parliament’s Speaker. Signed by 113 of them, it demanded the resignation of an official from an anti-bribery commission who had dared to summon the former president to give evidence. The petition carried a symbolic message: it would take only as many MPs to bring an impeachment motion against Mr Sirisena, should they wish to. The Speaker would probably not object if they did so: he is another brother of Mr Rajapaksa. “Even though we are in government, it’s as if we are in the opposition,” a deputy minister says.
Aides say Mr Sirisena’s main concern has been to try to gain the trust of his own Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which was led until January by Mr Rajapaksa. Speculation is mounting that he may call fresh elections to try to strengthen his parliamentary support. He had promised to go to the polls once the first 100 days were up. That is one pledge on which he can deliver. (The Economist)