Millennium Post

Excessive manoeuvring

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena's decision to sack Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appoint former president Mahinda Rajapaksa whom he had defeated in the 2015 presidential election in his place is turning out to be ill-conceived and flawed. First, the speaker of Parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, refused to recognise Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister until he is able to prove his majority in Parliament. Second, before the floor test on November 15, Sirisena dissolved the Parliament and announced fresh election on January 5. Now, all the major opposition parties, who have a complete majority in Parliament, have challenged the President's decision in the country's top court. In a fresh address to the nation on Sunday, Sirisena has claimed that his decision to dissolve the Parliament was aimed at saving the country from a potential civil war as the floor test would have driven the members and their followers towards violence. While sacking Wickremesinghe and suspending the Parliament about two weeks ago, President Sirisena had claimed that he had major differences with Wickremesinghe on a number of policy issues. He had also taken everybody by surprise by claiming that Wickremesinghe and a member of the Cabinet were hatching a plot to assassinate him. Some Sri Lankan media outlets had published a news quoting Sirisena that external intelligence wing of India, Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), was planning to assassinate him. Later, Sirisena refuted the media claim that he had spoken something to that effect. He even called up Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and tried to clear the air on the issue.

As Sirisena's controversial decisions have landed the strategic island nation in the Indian Ocean Region in a complex constitutional crisis, the world leaders have expressed concerns over the recent developments and asked the Sri Lankan president to follow due process based on the constitution and ensure that democratic principles and institutions do not get undermined in the ongoing power tussle. For long, Sri Lanka has been in the grip of a civil war that pitted the Tamil population against the majority Sinhalese. The civil war saw a decisive moment during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ten-year from 2005-2015, when the Sri Lankan security forces launched a massive operation to root out Tamil terror outfits, mainly LTTE. Despite international criticism, Rajapaksa continued with the crackdown that saw nearly 40,000 of LTTE cadres brutally killed. Usually, the southern states, especially Tamil Nadu, have expressed solidarity with the Tamil cause but they could not do anything when Rajapaksa oversaw the military crackdown against LTTE. The only international support that Rajapaksa had during his 10-year rule as the President of the island nation was that of China. Sri Lanka was one of the first countries in India's sphere of influence to have opted China as a major business and diplomatic partner. Rajapaksa allowed China to build a strategic deep-water modern port at Hambantota that made India extremely unhappy and angry with the country's government. During Rajapaksa's tenure, China was able to formalise a number of deals that allowed Chinese companies unhindered access to the country. Most of the projects that China undertook in Sri Lanka were funded by Chinese loans on high rates and that triggered a fear of debt-trap in the country and the people voted out Rajapaksa in 2015 by choosing Sirisena as the new president. Sirisena had promised to investigate the allegations of high-handedness and human rights violations during the Rajapaksa regime but he did not follow up his promises.

The international community that wanted action from Sirisena on the excesses committed by Rajapaksa chose to shun and avoid Sirisena, the way they treated Rajapaksa in the past. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who was eyeing to contest the next Presidential election, was getting cosy with India. His government is said to have offered a similar deep-water port project as the Chinese-built Hambantota port to India besides enhancing bilateral business cooperation. India was slowly regaining its primacy in the country's foreign affairs. This left Sirisena in an awkward situation where he was neither enjoying the support of the international community nor that of India or China. With the international community siding with Wickremesinghe, he was fast emerging as a favourite for the president's post. Sirisena's move to sack Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was his attempt to stop him from rising to the country's top post. And, by replacing him with China-backed Rajapaksa, Sirisena tried to placate China. But going by the developments that followed his controversial decisions, it seems that Sirisena has fallen victim to excessive manoeuvring. Now, one can only hope that things fall in place and the country soon recovers from this political mess.

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