Sri Lankan democracy on the edge as confusion plagues the country's politics

Kamlendra Kanwar
New Delhi | Updated :
15 November 2018, 02:51 PM
Sri Lankan democracy on the edge as confusion plagues the country's politics
Sri Lankan democracy on the edge as confusion plagues the country's politics

A full-blown constitutional crisis has descended on Sri Lanka’s democracy that has caused serious divisions within the body politic. There is utter confusion over where the country’s politics and governance are headed. Thursday’s brawl between lawmakers in Parliament has led to an adjournment of the House until November 21 with no decision on who is the country’s prime minister.

What triggered off the crisis in the first instance was President Sirisena’s sacking of prime minister Wickremesinghe with whom he had of late had strained relations and his abrupt decision to replace him with his erstwhile bête noire Mahinda Rajapaksa who Sirisena had defeated and replaced in a fair and square election in January 2015. The return of Rajapaksa came as a big surprise because of their past animosity.

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With the parliamentary speaker not accepting Sirisena’s diktat on appointment of Rajapaksa as new prime minister and ordering a floor test which Rajapaksa’s supporters lost on Wednesday by a hotly disputed voice vote, there are two prime ministers in place — Rajapaksa appointed by the President and Wickremesinghe who ostensibly has the majority of legislators on his side and insists that he continues to hold office.

It is indeed a piquant situation which has put Sri Lankan democracy on the edge as never before. The principal actors in the drama are flexing their muscles for the final round even as Sirisena, who set the cat among the pigeons, is groping cluelessly.

On top of it, there is a snap election announced by Sirisena which has been overturned in the apex court as being violative of the constitution. What would be the future course of action and how the constitutional crisis would be resolved is a question that plagues politics in the country.

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As if all this confusion was not enough, Rajapaksa has snapped links with Sirisena’s party the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and made common
cause with the newly-formed Sri Lanka People’s Party. Confusion could hardly have been worse confounded.

Allies of Rajapaksa say they do not recognise the legitimacy of Wednesday’s voice vote taken by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya even as the
government remains paralysed.

Wickremesinghe said after the voice vote that he had submitted a petition with the signatures of 122 MPs supporting lack of confidence
in his opponent Rajapaksa.

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But it is steeped in uncertainty who is the prime minister, and consequently who commands state institutions such as the police and
public service. Wickremesinghe issued a statement making it clear to “all government servants and police that you cannot carry out illegal
orders from the purported government that has failed to demonstrate the confidence of the people.”

If Sirisena as president chooses to ignore the vote against Rajapaksa in the House, he would be defying the mandate of Parliament. If he
appoints Wickremesinghe, he would have to swallow his pride and would infuriate Rajapaksa and his supporters.

He could leave it to the Supreme Court to take the final call but whatever stand the apex court takes would predictably be unacceptable
to some.

Sirisena could annul the appointment of Rajapaksa and choose a new person as prime minister but that would open a Pandora’s box.

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China, which has been the principal prop of Rajapaksa right since he was President until nearly four years ago, is mum on the issue due to
sensitivities among people in Sri Lanka while India which has high stakes in the political battle in Colombo is also silent until the issue is resolved internally.

All eyes are therefore on the principal actors in the drama—Sirisena, Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe as also on the Sri Lankan Supreme Court
for a solution to the imbroglio.

Through all this, one man who has come out scarred is President Sirisena who has betrayed lack of political finesse. Who will have the
last laugh is the million-dollar question.

First Published: Thursday, November 15, 2018 02:51 PM
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