Upcoming Sri Lanka Parliamentary election – China vs US-India

In fact, the China factor is very significant in Sri Lankan politics and it counts in favor of the former president. Undoubtedly, China has emerged as the strongest ally of Sri Lanka and made great inroad into its domestic affair.

Upcoming Sri Lanka Parliamentary election – China vs US-India

Monavvar Alam - India

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on June 26, 2015, finally dissolved the parliament, paving way for fresh parliamentary elections in mid August, eight months ahead of the schedule. It was part of his promises in his “100-day” program, announced during the campaign for the January 8 Presidential election. However, amid difficult political situation and deepening social crisis, he repeatedly postponed the promised calling of a general election.

The most surprising aspect of this election is that the defeated and ousted former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is now planning a comeback by contesting in this parliamentary election and that too, as a candidate of Srisena’s ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). If he succeeds in his plan and gets elected as the Prime Minsiter, it would create an unprecedented mess and crisis in Sri Lanka’s politics. As such, the present political situation in Sri Lanka is already full of inherent contradictions.

Besides domestic realities, international factors also play powerful role in Sri Lanka’s politics. Rajapaksa has always blamed his defeat on a conspiracy involving Indian and western intelligence agencies. His government’s open strategic tilt towards China had worried both the US and India. Hence, Rajapaksha’s defeat and Srisena’s rise to power was seen as immense advantage for India and a strategic loss to China. Now, the prospect of the former president’s rise to power once again cannot be a good sign for India. Rather, it will be very much inimical to its strategic interests in the region

In fact, the China factor is very significant in Sri Lankan politics and it counts in favor of the former president. Undoubtedly, China has emerged as the strongest ally of Sri Lanka and made great inroad into its domestic affair. So much so that it relegated other important ally of Sri Lanka, India, to become almost irrelevant during Rajapaksha’s increasingly authoritarian regime.

Even during Srisena’s government since January this year, in spite of New Delhi’s hobnobbing with newly elected president and its efforts to woo them in its favour, China’s powerful influence always loomed large over the island nation’s politics. Both India and China are playing high stakes game in Sri Lanka. The final result will depend on how well Srisena plays his cards against his towering adversary.

Actually Sirisena's party is the same Sri Lanka Freedom Party as the defeated Rajapaksa. Sirisena was just a party dissident backed by the SLFP's traditional rival, the United National Party (UNP) of the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Who controls the SLFP now - pro-Sirisena faction or pro-Rajapaksa faction? That is a very difficult question to answer unequivocally. Apparently, the former President still hold a very strong support base within the party. Sirisena, despite being an elected president, never enjoyed the full support of his party men. Whatever that means, it certainly indicates Rajapaksha’s stronghold and ambivalent attitude of party members. That is not so surprising. It is not as if Maithripala Sirisena, a simple villager who rose within the SLFP ranks to reach top positions, suddenly held the island enthralled. After all, he too, was the part of Rajapaksha’s government. The main resentment and grudge against the former President was that he turned increasingly authoritarian and triumphalist.

After defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa in the January presidential elections, Sirisena, for want of full support, faced very tough resistance from lawmakers in implementing his promises for democratic reform. In view to this, Sirisena was obviously keen to secure cooperation of a new parliament ahead of an internal investigation into war crimes allegations in the final stages of the country's civil war. It is worth recalling here that in March, Sirisena secured postponement of a United Nations report on the alleged atrocities and human rights abuses during the final phase of the war against the Tamil insurgency in 2009 by promising a domestic investigation. The report is now expected in September this year. In view to this, the timing of the parliamentary elections gains new significance.

However, Rajapaska’s supporters feel that if the report criticises him for war-time abuses, it might actually help him with Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese community. He will be seen as a hero who stood up to ‘foreigners’ trying to interfere in the small island nation.

Now the SLFP is split between President Sirisena and the former president Rajapaksa. This split can give the prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) an edge in the election. If the the UNP succeeds in taking full advantage of this situation, it can also emerge as the single largest party after the election.

However, in the volatile political situation of Sri Lanka, it is too early to say anything with any degree of certainty. Rajapaksha factor cannot be ignored. Though President Srisena is trying his best to oppose the candidature of Rajapaksha from the SLFP, he is not likely to succeed in this endeavour. In any case, Rajapaksha will be the prime ministerial candidate of either the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) or the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA).

Three rallies have been organised in different parts of Sri Lanka to call for the ousted president to contest the parliamentary polls. Recently, in an interview to the Guardian newspaper of the Uk, he said, “I am SLFPer, I have been a SLFPer all my life. Why should the party refuse me nominations? I plan to contest from the SLFP. The fact that I am a SLFPer cannot be ignored,”

Of course, his first step to a return to power would involve getting a nomination from his own Sri Lanka Freedom party (SLFP) to stand in parliamentary polls.

However, for the major minority communities in Sri Lanka, Tamils and Muslims, his rise to power again won’t be a good omen. They already suffered a lot of sectarian violence in the last days of his tenure.

As one of his supporters recently said, “Rajapaksa will come from a platform that will contest on a Sinhala nationalist agenda. That is where his power base is, these are the voters that never deserted him.” But, this will raise fears of increased tensions in what is an already polarised country. In the last Presidential election in January, votes of large Muslim communities and Tamil-dominated north played a key role in Rajapaksa’s defeat. As per electoral data, Sirisena got nearly three-quarters of the vote in the Tamil stronghold of Kilinochchi.

However, President Sirisena and the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, now face tougher challenges due to the instability of the ruling coalition. Sirisena is definitely trying to rebalance executive power by reinforcing Sri Lanka’s judiciary and parliament, while stripping the president’s office of the extensive powers accumulated under Rajapaksa. However, for want of support in the Parliament he could not succeed in his efforts. Major reforms will need new legislation and that would necessitate the support in Parliament.

Now dice has been cast and much depends on the outcome of the coming Parliamentary election. If the Srisena government fails to hold its public support and its popularity keeps eroding, Rajapaksa will re-emerge as main factor and then, he would become an obvious choice for disgruntled voters, especially from the majority Sinhala community.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 02 Temmuz 2015, 16:19