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Sri Lanka Equity Forum » Stock Market Talk » Winds of Change in Sri Lanka

Winds of Change in Sri Lanka

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1 Winds of Change in Sri Lanka on Wed Feb 21, 2018 10:55 pm

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Vice President - Equity Analytics
Vice President - Equity Analytics
The enigmatic nature of Sri Lanka was once again manifested by overall results of the recently held local elections.  The landslide victory marked by Former president Mahinda Rajapakshe’s newly established political party People’s Front” (Podu Jana Peramuna) has disorientated the two main political parties of the island. In fact the local elections were delayed for a longer period due to various reasons. According to the election commissioner of Sri Lanka Mahinda Deshapriya 8326 local councilors  have been elected from this election for 24 municipal councils, 41 urban councils, 275 pradeshiya sabhas (Local councils) which represent the third tier of the legislative body of Sri Lanka. Moreover this year local elections were marked by guaranteeing 25% women representation in each council and also the first time Sri Lanka followed a mixed electoral model whereby 60 % of the members are elected by the first-past-the-post system and the rest through closed list proportional representation.

Throughout the election campaign two main political parties in Sri Lanka United National party and Sri Lanka Freedom were driven by the usual political slogans and the tactic of critiquing each other. This was worsened when Sri Lankan president began to critique his own Prime Minister Ranil Wickrmaisnghe and his government for the Central Bank bond scam and for not investigating the alleged corruption charges on various persons of former president Mahinda Rajapakshe’s regime including his family members. Ironically none of the charges have been proven by law thus far and which has given a sense of resentment to the masses in rural heartland of Sri Lanka where former president is regarded as an icon. More importantly the government’s lethargic or rather stagnant concern over the economic development in Sri Lanka has palpably caused a detrimental impact on the unexpected comeback of Mahinda Rajapakshes’s newly formed party against all odds.

The famous ‘’Nugegoda Rally’’ which was organized by Dinesh Gunawardena just after weeks of former president Rajapaksha’s defeat as the presidential candidate brought mass number of people in support of the former president was the beginning of this comeback with a massive mass support and in the same time joint opposition in parliament led by Dinesh Gunawardena galvanized the organizational factors to set the ground for the victory of People’s Front” in a heavy margin. In examining the election results it’s a salient factor that still former president Mahinda Rajapakshe upholds his tremendous popularity in the Southern part of the island mainly among the Sinhalese masses in the rural areas. Rajapakshe’s newly established party People’s Front emerged victorious with 44.65% overall average and secured the power of 249 local governing bodies out of 340. Current Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe’s United National Party obtained 32.63 % average after upholding the power of 42 local governing bodies. Interestingly the party led by current Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena envisaged a crushing defeat. Above all former president Mahinda Rajapakshe is not the  leader or even  a member of this newly established political party Sri Lanka people’s Front albeit his open support to it in contesting in the local election 2018 and his charismatic public façade is the most obvious reason behind the ground breaking success of the party.

The results of the local elections held in Sri Lanka has demonstrated how rapidly political trajectory of the island can be changed. Especially the coalition government in Sri Lanka mainly consisted of United National Party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party has not been able to address the fundamental social economic issues of the island though it has been three years since they came into power. Stagnation of Economy and high inflation rate of Sri Lanka seem to have agitated the public opinion against the coalition government. Besides those given factors Prime Minister’s reputation was marred by infamous Central Bank bond scandal where the Prime Minister is being accused for being a party and Prime Minister has been safe guarding the former Central Bank Governor of Sri Lanka Arjun Mahendran who is the man behind the single largest bank robbery in the subcontinent. Perhaps it would be fair enough to assume Sri Lankan government’s repulsive decision on taking actions against the provoking behavior of Sri Lankan Brigadier attached to Sri Lankan High Commission in London in front of a protest organized by Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in Britain has caused a strong resentment among the Sinhalese majority towards Government.

However this stunning victory of former President Mahinda Rajapakshe’s party cannot be entirely regarded as an overwhelming change in Sri Lankan politics though it has created some uncertainties in island’s political sphere. Especially the Strong Indian and Western support to the present government have been a known factor since the day President Maitripla Sirisena decided to run for presidential election in 2015 as the common candidate of the opposition against powerful Mahinda Rajapakshe. Even after the defeat of the presidential election in 2015 Mahinda Rajapakshe claimed that his defeat was planned by RAW agents in Colombo though New Delhi had denied such charges. As a matter of fact it is certain that New Delhi shows a keen interest in defending the current government of Sri Lanka as a strategy to prevent Chinese presence in the island from growing stronger and reemergence of Rajapakshe’s power appears to be a setback to uphold Indian interest in Sri Lanka. In this context New Delhi as well as USA will undoubtedly play its role in every possible way of succoring the co government in Sri Lanka. In fact this was evident when Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Taranjit Singh met both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickramasinghe separately and left for New Delhi on the same day to meet Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale. Furthermore the Ambassador of USA Atul Keshap met with President Sirisena when the election results were declared and paid lengthy attention on the current political situation.

It seems unlikely that sudden rise of Rajapakshe would continue to topple the existing government amidst its abrupt victory in island’s politics. Mainly the Tamil, Muslim and even Christian minorities in Sri Lanka have moved away from former president due to his more pro Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalistic image and this is purely visible by looking at the electorates won by Sri Lanka People’s Front as they are largely dominated by Sinhalese Buddhist votes. Nevertheless the external supportive factors upon the government in Sri Lanka from India and West may play a pivotal role in next few months in terms of securing the grip of power in the parliament, but the outcome of local elections in Sri Lanka has created a political storm in the island and it is still early to predict how fervently it would change the key political actors in Sri Lanka.

Written by-Eshan Jayawardane is a guest lecturer at Open University of Sri Lanka. He studied Sociology at Delhi University and holds MA in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He can be reached at eshan.jayawardena@gmail.com.

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