By R Hariharan –
Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s hopes of coming back to power as Sri Lanka’s prime minister crashed when the. United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which fielded him as a candidate, lost out narrowly to the United National Celebration (UNP)-led coalition in the parliamentary election held on August 17.
In the most peacefully carried out election in Sri Lanka in recent occasions where over 70 per cent of the people are stated to have voted, the UPFA could win only eight of the 22 electoral districts as against its rival UNP’s victory in 11 districts. The Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK)-led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won in three predominantly Tamil districts of Jaffna, Vanni and Batticaloa South. It would assistance UNP-led government rather than that of UPFA.
In Sri Lanka’s electoral program, out of the 225 parliament members, 196 members are elected by way of proportional representation method from 22 electoral districts. Every celebration is allocated a number of seats from the quota assigned to the district in proportion to votes secured by the celebration. The balance of 29 seats known as national list are allotted to parties according to the nation-wide proportional votes they receive in the election.
Rajapaksa conceded defeat in the morning of August 18 even prior to outcomes were officially announced. He told the AFP news agency “My dream of becoming prime minister has faded away…I am conceding. We have lost a great fight.” Even though a message from his twitter account later contradicted this, he need to have noticed the writing on the wall early in the day.
As Wickremesinghe described, the presidential election was in a way a referendum. Over 15 million voters of Sri Lanka had to make a decision whether or not they wanted Rajapaksa’s return to politics right after a decade in energy. Once hailed as Sri Lanka strongman, Rajapaksa need to be a disappointed man to be rejected once again by the individuals in his bid for national leadership within a year following he lost the presidential election in January 2015. He had high hopes of coming back to energy as prime minister after the powers of executive presidency had been cut down to size by President Maithripala Sirisena. Rajapaksa also had to overcome the efforts of Sirisena as chairman of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), to avoid him from contesting as a UPFA candidate.
Though neither the UPFA nor UNP-led alliance is probably to have a majority in parliament, Ranil Wickremesinghe, victorious leader of the UNP obtaining bigger number of seats, is expected to be sworn in once again as prime minister. President Sirisena is most likely to choose his loyalists inside the SLFP to join the national alliance government led by Wickremesinghe. Therefore both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe will be capable to follow up in action to fulfill their agenda for structural and constitutional reforms and pull up the sagging economy.
Rajapaksa’s failure is a political triumph for Sirisena, specifically soon after senior members of the SLFP central committee challenged his leadership and tried their ideal to bring back Rajapaksa to the detriment of Sirisena loyalists. Sirisena sent a sturdy message of his authority and sacked 13 senior members of the central committee including the all important secretaries of UPFA and SLFP and appointed his own nominees quickly after polling ended on August 17.
But Sirisena’s action could be challenged when the Supreme Court reopens on August 31 from holiday. According to a former chief justice, as per the party constitution only the secretary of the celebration has to nominate the national list members. On the other hand court action may possibly nicely be deferred as some of those impacted seem to be creating friendly noises to get back into excellent books of Sirisena.
Rajapaksa as a productive member of the UPFA will have to sit in the opposition benches in the exact same parliament where his writ ran unchallenged when he was president. If he is selected as a leader of the opposition by UPFA members, he will be presiding more than an anomalous circumstance when some of the members join the cabinet. Would he do it?
Out of power and after two successive failures, Rajapaksa’s political influence has been slashed. But his assistance base among the conservative Buddhist nationalist southern Sinhalas seems to be largely intact. Will he bounce back into politics? Apart from Rajapaksa, two other people – Sirisena and Wickremesinghe – also are probably pondering more than this query
In addition to former president Rajapaksa, his brother Chamal Rajapaka and son Namal Rajapaksa have also won. This would make certain an element of protection for the three Rajapaksas as they can not be arrested when the parliament is in session. This becomes essential in the investigations into situations of corruption and misuse of workplace now underway.
But this will spell problems for Rajapaksas. Mahinda is facing cases of corruption in handling of public funds and his brother and former minister Basil is tangled in yet another similar case in the law courts. These instances are likely to move on a quickly pace. But we can expect each Sirisena and Wickremesinghe to tread meticulously lest they antagonize Sinhala nationalist segment by vindictive action.
As far as India is concerned the news of Wickremesinghe combine’s victory would be welcome though even had Rajapaksa come to power he would have handled India with kid gloves. As far as China is concerned, possibly it would rue the failure of Rajapaksa as a lesson learnt, and court the new leadership to get its stalled projects by means of and get back to organization. Practically nothing moves Chinese like funds and President Xi Jinping like 21st Century Maritime Road. Sri Lanka is critical for China on each counts.
*Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. He is related with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Evaluation Group. E-Mail: [email protected] Blog: http://col.hariharan.info