Sirisena’s political calculations go haywire: US experts on Lanka crisis

Washington: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s move to dismiss Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replacing him with Mahinda Rajapaksa was a “poor decision” that went haywire, prominent think tanks in the US said, emphasising on the need of a free and fair election in the island nation.

Sirisena on October 9 dissolved parliament and announced snap polls on January 5 next year after it became evident that he did not have enough support in the House to prove the premiership of Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa needed the support of minimum 113 parliamentarians in the 225-member House to prove his majority

“The dissolution of parliament underscores the fact that Sirisena misunderstood and misjudged his ability to muster political support from the parliamentarians,” Bharat Gopalaswamy, Director of the South Asia Centre at the Atlantic Council think tank said.

“It was a poor decision to sack Wickremasinghe. It is important that the elections that will be conducted now be fair, free and credible as it is important to restore faith in the democratic process in Sri Lanka for its international partners,” he said.

On October 26, Sirisena abruptly sacked Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Rajapaksa, a move which made the country plunge into a constitutional crisis.

Sirisena had suspended parliamentary proceedings until November 16. Later, owing to domestic and international pressure, he issued a notice to reconvene parliament on November 14. However, on Friday last week, Sirisena dissolved parliament and announced snap polls on January 2019.

“Sri Lanka’s political instability is definitely worrisome,” Aman Thakker, research associate at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank, said.

“The return of Rajapaksa as prime minister certainly has many in New Delhi worried about whether he continue with his pro-China engagement, which saw Chinese investment of billions of dollars in the island nation and even a Chinese submarine dock at Colombo,” he said.

However, he noted that Rajapaksa has shown an ability to mend ties with India, as was evident by his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year.

“India will need to look beyond which personalities cycle in and out of power, and rather develop a more long-term strategy to engage with China and respond to the inroads it is making in the Indian Ocean,” Thakker said.

Aparna Pande, Director of Hudson Institute’s Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia, said Delhi is watching closely the recent developments in Colombo not only because India seeks internal stability in Lanka but also out of concern that “Beijing may have had a role to play in the latest development”.