There has been a massive government shake up in Sri Lanka the past week. Current Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has removed his party from the parliamentary coalition and ousted current Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe. President Sirisena then appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new Sri Lankan prime minister. This move by Sirisena has triggered a constitutional crisis within Sri Lanka, as many Sri Lankans and government officials have come out against the move. Some fear that this crisis will result in more political turmoil and potentially violent outbreak in the country.
The newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was president for nearly 10 years and helped to end the decades long brutal civil war. The Tamil Tigers attempted to establish a Tamil ethnic state in the north of the country but eventually failed to do so against the Sri Lankan government. Though he did end the war, Rajapaska has been strongly criticized, both domestically and internationally, on his heavy-handed tactics to end the civil war. More than 40,000 Sri Lankan civilians died under Rajapaksa’s watch in the last few days of the conflict. Many have said that he also failed to promote reconciliation between civilians after the civil war. He refused to investigate civilian disappearances, release Tamils under antiterrorism laws or reduce army occupation in the country. Though the civil war ended in 2009, the country is still coming to grips with the ethnic and religious tensions in the country. Rajapaksa also faced internal corruption charges after he appointed three of his brothers to high level government positions. All of these signs should be of concern about the integrity of Rajapaksa.
The transition of power within the government is not guaranteed to be a smooth one. With the prime minister being outed, Ranil Wickremesinghe said that he will not be leaving his post quietly. Wickremesinghe is currently being backed by enough members of parliament and has a chance to fight the move. He said “I will continue to function as prime minister. No one else can be appointed according to the constitution. It is up to the Parliament now. The future can only be decided by Parliament.” Wickremesinghe is going to approach his party, United National Party, for a special vote regarding his ousting. If he retains enough votes, it is possible that Wickremesinghe could holds his post. Wickremesinghe’s opposition party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, said that the growing frustration with his leadership will help them move this decision regarding the prime minister and president forward.
Beside’s the criticism of Rajapaksa’s human rights record, many are concerned with his foreign policy and relationship with China. Rajapaksa is known with his close and friendly relationship with China. During his presidency, Rajapaksa had Sri Lanka borrow heavily from China for infrastructure projects, which ended up costing the country. China has been funding infrastructure projects around the world to create their “String of Pearls” system, hoping to gain more global influence. With more and more money owed to China, some are scared that China will begin to have more influence within Sri Lankan politics. The Chinese port in Sri Lanka was handed over to the Chinese government after Sri Lanka was unable to pay back the full initial loans to China.
The debate within Sri Lanka continues over whether this power transition is even legal within the limits of the constitution. Wickremesinghe supporters claim that this move is unconstitutional, “What happened was a political coup. The president had no right do this,”.
Countries around the world are closely monitoring these developments in Sri Lanka. China and India are both waiting to see which way the new government will sway. If Rajapaksa is able to take over the position, then China will no doubt be happy. If Wickremesinghe remains in power, then India will be satisfied and likely will closer align itself with Sri Lanka. The United States State Department released the statement on the situation saying: “all parties to act in accordance with Sri Lanka’s constitution, refrain from violence, and follow due process.” It may be a while until we figure out who gets the power in Sri Lanka as the president’s secretary has suspended the parliament until November 16. Though this move may not result in violence, it will be extremely damaging to the democracy of Sri Lanka and could have future repercussions on the nation.