Upside Down Politics in Sri Lanka

A bad elec­tion call, but a chance at a more sta­ble two-party sys­tem.

elections votingSri Lankan Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena dis­solved Par­lia­ment in late June to con­sol­i­date his power and get a stronger man­date for re­forms. Big mis­take. The Aug. 17 elec­tion has pro­vided an open­ing for for­mer Pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japaksa to re­launch his ca­reer and per­haps emerge as Prime Min­is­ter.

That would be a strange reprise of the Jan­uary pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Mr. Ra­japaksa called an early poll in the ex­pec­ta­tion of an easy win, only for Mr. Sirisena to emerge as a se­ri­ous chal­lenger.

The swings of po­lit­i­cal for­tune re­veal how the Sri Lankan pub­lic re­mains am­biva­lent about the legacy of Mr. Ra­japaksa’s two terms. He suc­cess­fully won the civil war with Tamil in­sur­gents, which earned him en­dur­ing loy­alty from many in the Sin­halese ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tion. But he tar­nished his legacy with au­thor­i­tar­ian tac­tics. Crit­ics al­lege cor­rup­tion and hu­man-rights abuses, all of which he de­nies. A United Na­tions war crimes re­port is due in Septem­ber.

The swings of po­lit­i­cal for­tune re­veal how the Sri Lankan pub­lic re­mains am­biva­lent about the legacy of Mr. Ra­japaksa’s two terms. He suc­cess­fully won the civil war with Tamil in­sur­gents, which earned him en­dur­ing loy­alty from many in the Sin­halese ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tion. But he tar­nished his legacy with au­thor­i­tar­ian tac­tics. Crit­ics al­lege cor­rup­tion and hu­man-rights abuses, all of which he de­nies. A United Na­tions war crimes re­port is due in Septem­ber.

The swings of po­lit­i­cal for­tune re­veal how the Sri Lankan pub­lic re­mains am­biva­lent about the legacy of Mr. Ra­japaksa’s two terms. He suc­cess­fully won the civil war with Tamil in­sur­gents, which earned him en­dur­ing loy­alty from many in the Sin­halese ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tion. But he tar­nished his legacy with au­thor­i­tar­ian tac­tics. Crit­ics al­lege cor­rup­tion and hu­man-rights abuses, all of which he de­nies. A United Na­tions war crimes re­port is due in Septem­ber.

All of this means Mr. Sirisena’s United Peo­ple’s Free­dom Al­liance (UPFA) is deeply di­vided. Un­able to en­act much of the re­form pro­gram he promised, the Pres­i­dent chose to go back to the vot­ers.

Mr. Ra­japaksa’s de­ci­sion to run for Par­lia­ment as a mem­ber of the UPFA changed the game. While he claims to sup­port his suc­ces­sor, he dif­fers from the Pres­i­dent in many key pol­icy ar­eas.

Mr. Ra­japaksa sought closer re­la­tions with China dur­ing his time as pres­i­dent. Be­sides al­low­ing Bei­jing’s sub­marines to dock in Colombo, he ar­ranged around $5 bil­lion in loans from Chi­nese banks for lo­cal projects. Mr. Sirisena’s coali­tion has raised ques­tions about some of the deals and is look­ing to re­place as much as 70% of the Chi­nese loans with money from a more di­verse group of lenders. Those close to Mr. Ra­japaksa say he will push to con­tinue work un­der the Chi­nese con­tracts if elected.

Mr. Ra­japaksa sought closer re­la­tions with China dur­ing his time as pres­i­dent. Be­sides al­low­ing Bei­jing’s sub­marines to dock in Colombo, he ar­ranged around $5 bil­lion in loans from Chi­nese banks for lo­cal projects. Mr. Sirisena’s coali­tion has raised ques­tions about some of the deals and is look­ing to re­place as much as 70% of the Chi­nese loans with money from a more di­verse group of lenders. Those close to Mr. Ra­japaksa say he will push to con­tinue work un­der the Chi­nese con­tracts if elected.

And while Mr. Ra­japaksa has not said as much, sup­port­ers say he will try to be­come Prime Min­is­ter in the event of a UPFA-formed gov­ern­ment. The irony is that as a re­sult of the pro-leg­is­la­ture re­forms Mr. Sirisena was able to pass in the spring, the next Prime Min­is­ter will likely be the most pow­er­ful in the coun­try’s his­tory.

And while Mr. Ra­japaksa has not said as much, sup­port­ers say he will try to be­come Prime Min­is­ter in the event of a UPFA-formed gov­ern­ment. The irony is that as a re­sult of the pro-leg­is­la­ture re­forms Mr. Sirisena was able to pass in the spring, the next Prime Min­is­ter will likely be the most pow­er­ful in the coun­try’s his­tory.

Although leader of UPFA, Mr. Sirisena ap­pears to have al­lowed Mr. Ra­japaksa a spot on the bal­lot in or­der to pre­vent an even deeper schism. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from speak­ing out against his for­mer op­po­nent. “Young peo­ple will not vote for you due to the big wrongs you com­mit­ted dur­ing your pe­riod, your feu­dal be­hav­ior and nepo­tism,” the Pres­i­dent said on July 15. He has also pre­dicted UPFA will be de­feated in Au­gust be­cause Mr. Ra­japaksa’s name is on the bal­lot.

Although leader of UPFA, Mr. Sirisena ap­pears to have al­lowed Mr. Ra­japaksa a spot on the bal­lot in or­der to pre­vent an even deeper schism. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from speak­ing out against his for­mer op­po­nent. “Young peo­ple will not vote for you due to the big wrongs you com­mit­ted dur­ing your pe­riod, your feu­dal be­hav­ior and nepo­tism,” the Pres­i­dent said on July 15. He has also pre­dicted UPFA will be de­feated in Au­gust be­cause Mr. Ra­japaksa’s name is on the bal­lot.

A UPFA de­feat may work in Mr. Sirisena’s fa­vor. Many anti-Ra­japaksa mem­bers jumped ship to form a coali­tion with the ri­val United Na­tional Front, the al­liance that tem­po­rar­ily al­lied with Mr. Sirisena in his Jan­uary pres­i­den­tial run and formed the gov­ern­ment that sup­ported his re­forms in the spring. A big win for the UNF could mean broader re­forms in the fu­ture. Sri Lanka’s democ­racy is in an awk­ward state now, but a more sta­ble two-party sys­tem could emerge.

A UPFA de­feat may work in Mr. Sirisena’s fa­vor. Many anti-Ra­japaksa mem­bers jumped ship to form a coali­tion with the ri­val United Na­tional Front, the al­liance that tem­po­rar­ily al­lied with Mr. Sirisena in his Jan­uary pres­i­den­tial run and formed the gov­ern­ment that sup­ported his re­forms in the spring. A big win for the UNF could mean broader re­forms in the fu­ture. Sri Lanka’s democ­racy is in an awk­ward state now, but a more sta­ble two-party sys­tem could emerge. (WSJ)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*


*

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

196,600 Spam Comments Blocked so far by Spam Free Wordpress

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>