EDITORIAL | What is Sirisena up to?

The political drama unfolding in Sri Lanka has triggered a wave of uncertainty in the island nation. Its effects will be felt overseas as well. President Maithripala Sirisena has precipitated a crisis by withdrawing his supporters from the National Unity Government and appointing former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister. Ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has described Sirisena’s actions as “unconstitutional”. According to the 19th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, it is parliament, not the President, who can remove the prime minister. Sirisena’s removal of Wickremesinghe is thus illegal. With 106 parliamentarians, the Wickremesinghe-led United National Front is the largest party in parliament. Together, Sirisena and Rajapaksa command the support of 95 MPs. This could, of course, change. A day after he sacked Wickremesinghe, Sirisena prorogued parliament until November 16. Lacking the numbers to form a government with a simple majority, Sirisena is trying to pre-empt a no-confidence motion by suspending parliament. He has thus provided Rajapaksa with some time to win Wickremsinghe supporters to his fold. Things have come full circle in the island. Friends till December 2014, Sirisena and Rajapaksa turned foes in the January 2015 presidential election, when Sirisena challenged the latter. The two have turned friends now to oust Wickremesinghe.

Rajapaksa’s return to power is a matter of concern for India. It was during his presidency that Sri Lanka allowed China to build its influence in the island. Sri Lanka became a Chinese strategic asset. Although Rajapaksa has in recent months toned down his anti-India rhetoric, Delhi should be on guard. China has already expressed support to Rajapaksa’s return to power. Obviously, Beijing feels assured that its investments and interests in Sri Lanka are safe with Sirisena and Rajapksa at the helm.

India must tread cautiously. The possibility of Sirisena and Rajapaksa whipping up anti-India sentiment in the island cannot be ruled out. Only last week, Sirisena, at a closed door meeting, is reported to have accused India’s RAW of plotting to kill him. Was he preparing the ground for the Rajapaksa power grab? He and Rajapaksa can be expected to mobilise Sinhalese nationalist sentiment to justify recent events. Blaming India could come in handy for Sinhalese politicians in the coming days. Favouring one party or politician will provide Sri Lankans with room to criticise India for ‘meddling.’ Therefore, India must keep a low profile until the currently murky waters clear. Sorting out the current crisis is Sri Lanka’s problem. The island is a strategically important neighbour and India has already lost much ground there. India should be prepared to do business with whichever party forms the government and whoever occupies the prime minister’s chair.

Read also: India asks Lanka to respect democratic system

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EDITORIAL | What is Sirisena up to?

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