The Ongoing Political Crisis in Sri Lanka

For the past week, Sri Lanka has continued to grapple with its governmental crisis and a solution has yet to be found. On Thursday, the Sri Lankan Parliament saw violence for the first time since 1987 when terrorists attempted to assassinate the country’s leadership. However, this time the violence was carried out by fellow lawmakers.

The current crisis in Sri Lanka has caught international attention (including this website: here) as President Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Wichremesinghe in an abrupt move, calling him inept and corrupt. In his place, Sirisena appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former president with a reputation for being a strongman and a Chinese supporter. Wichrememsinghe’s supporters in the Parliament were joined by many in decrying these acts, and Wichrememsinghe himself refused to exit the official residency, claiming that the President would require a Parliamentary vote to remove him. Faced with this revolt from portions of the assembly, President Rajapaksa simply dissolved the Parliament.

However, the President has encountered setbacks that cannot be so easily be dissolved away. Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court rescinded the President’s order to dissolve Parliament. The next day Parliament passed a no confidence vote for Rajapaksa, which has led some constitutional experts to believe that Rajapaksa should no longer be considered Prime Minister. The following two days saw violent attempts by Sirisena supporters to prevent opposition members from passing similar no-confidence motions in the government. The violence included things from thrown chairs and constitutional books to chili powder. On Friday, following the violence the previous day, police were brought into the hall to prevent any similar attempts. Undeterred, Sirisena supports did their best to prevent the speaker from carrying out his duties. However, they failed to do so, and another no-confidence vote was passed. Unlike the previous one, Friday’s motion did not mention any misconduct by Sirisena, clearing hoping the President will accept it and remove Rajapaksa from power. However, many believe that removing Rajapaksa would naturally mean Wichrememsinghe would return to his role as Prime Minister, something President Sirisena has adamantly refused to allow.

Rajapaksa’s supporters has already announced that they plan to reject Friday’s vote, declaring the government and country to be “in anarchy”. The escalating situation has had some interesting effects, including Wikirememsinghe’s party request to Facebook that they safeguard the identity of its supporters. They fear that the government would request that Facebook give them information on the opposition party’s supporters, which could lead to various negative reprisals.

On Monday, while there was no violence, the chaos continued. Accusations flew thick and fast. Many accused the Chinese of influencing Sirisena’s decision, as Rajapaksa is seen as a close ally of China. Beijing denied all accusations. Wikirememsinghe’s supporters have also alleged that Rajapaksa’s followers have been offering $3 million for them to switch sides and support the besieged prime minister, another claim that is strenuously denied by the accused party. Lawmakers announced plans to remove funding for Rajapaksa’s staff, along with cutting the government’s overall budget, exercising their power of the purse to demonstrate their displeasure with an administration they feel is no longer legitimate. Unsurprisingly, a resolution to the political crisis was not found on Monday, and the country’s parliament has adjourned until Friday.

Notably, President Sirisena also removed a top investigator from the Criminal Investigation Department. Chief Inspector Nishantha Silva was probing several high-profile cases, including some that allegedly involve Mr. Rajapaksa’s family. This move seems to indicate that Sirisena continues to support his under fire Prime Minister. Inspector Silva was also investigating a series of assassinations and abductions against journalists and dissidents that occurred between 2008 and 2010, when Mr. Rajapaksa’s administration was in power.

As Sri Lanka is yet another location where India and China battle for influence, both great powers will be keeping a wary eye on the continued political chaos currently enveloping Sri Lanka. China does not want to see its investments potentially threatened and India does not want its close neighbor to return to political violence so soon. Both countries will hope that the end result of the political conflict ends favorably for them.