Political crisis in Sri Lanka: former dictator Rajapaksa is the new prime minister
President Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe, an ally, accusing him of corruption and plotting his murder. Rajapaksa is the former dictator investigated for abuses during the country’s civil war. Economic relations with India and China loom in the background. Parliament is suspended until 16 November.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka plunged in a political crisis after President Maithripala Sirisena ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former dictator and president, who stands accused of abuses during the country’s civil war. Sirisena also sacked the cabinet and suspended Parliament until 16 November.
The motivations for this action remain confused. Government ministers slam the attempted "coup" and complain that the removal of a democratically elected prime minister is "unconstitutional" and "illegal".
In the background, the region’s main power, China and India, are keeping an eye on the situation in a country where they vie for influence.
The Anglican Church of Sri Lanka spoke out against what it considers an unconstitutional measure, worried it could "lead to a further deterioration of our economy which will severely impact the already difficult day to day lives of our people”. For this reason, it has called on the president to "safeguard the Constitution and honour the mandate" he received from voters.
According to the National Peace Council, a possible "transfer of power [. . .] needs to be done in conformity with the Rule of Law or else the longer-term consequences can be catastrophic."
The situation precipitated in the last 48 hours, causing the death of a person, hit yesterday by a gunshot fired by the bodyguard of sacked minister.
On Friday evening came the surprise decision to remove Wickremesinghe, accused of nepotism and excessive ties with China.
In August 2017, the Sri Lankan government decided to lease Hambantota port to a Chinese company for 99 years. Over the past few months, relations between president and prime minister became tenser until members of the president’s party table a non-confidence motion against the prime minister.
Last week Sirisena claimed that he had foiled a plot to kill him involving a minister and India.
Complicating matters, Sirisena appointed Rajapaksa as health minister. He had defeated the latter in the 2014 presidential election in alliance with Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP).
Rajapaksa certainly cannot be considered an opponent to ties with China. It was during his term of office that the Colombo Port City megaproject got underway with Chinese money, but criticised by environmentalists and local residents.
Finally, during the 2014 election campaign, Sirisena won by focusing on national reconciliation, support for democratic principles and the pledge to bring justice to the victims of the atrocities committed during the civil war and in the years under his predecessor, Rajapaksa. Many now have doubts about his willingness to fulfil his promises.
(Melani Manel Perera contributed to this article)