Editorial: Sri Lanka’s Constitutional Coup and the Dragon
The small South Asian island nation is burning, protests are turning ugly, people are on the streets a Prime Minister is sacked from his office. No this isn’t a coup! It is a Constitutional Coup, which just took place in Sri Lanka.
Two weeks ago, everything was going smoothly until the Sri Lankan president Sirisena claims about an alleged plot to assassinate him by Indian intelligence agency R&AW (Research & Analysis Wing). Many refuted the news including officials from New Delhi, but this was the beginning of a Constitutional Coup.
10 days after the claim, Sri Lankan President sacked the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who was democratically elected to form a government of national unity in 2015 to bring in constitutional and governance reforms including a new Constitution to address the long-standing issues of the Tamil minority.
Mahinda Rajapaksa the former president of Sri Lanka, a populist leader who was responsible for massive corruption, involuntary disappearances, tyrannical arrests, war crimes, major human rights violations and abuses, scrapping freedom of speech, changing laws to avoid checks and balances, giving his own family positions in the government thus, running a dictatorial government. He was quite successful in silencing the critics or any kind of opposition to his position and kept amassing more and more power till the senior members of his own party felt disadvantaged. Resulting with, his own party member Mathripala Srisena running and winning the presidency by forming an alliance with Ranil Wickremesinghe’s party with Wickremesinghe at the position of the Prime Minister all carried out in a democratic way. This duo came to power with the promise of restoring the government to its former parliamentary self, run an enquiry on human right violations and abuses done in the past and stop them from happening, plus include Tamilians the ethnic minority with the mainstream.
Srisena and Wickremesinghe collaborated to remove Rajapaksa from power. After that was achieved, they hardly agreed on anything. Which stalled their ability to deliver on the promises they made earlier as they would negate each other’s moves that were made in that direction. Srisena instead of looking into the human rights violations, beginning of 2017 asked for a extension at the 34th Human Rights Council and later that year declared “There won’t be electric chairs, international war crimes tribunals or foreign judges. That book is closed. They still bring up issues that we have already brought to a close”.
Skip to 27th of October 2018 and in an unexpected yet not so surprising turn of events, Srisena dismissed Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister. On demanding an emergency parliamentary session, the president suspended the parliament till November 16. Though the president claims that this move of his is constitutional, a lot of people believe otherwise, including the parliament spokes person who did not validate the move.
This situation in Sri Lanka is specially worrisome as it poses a threat to its democracy and an even greater threat to the minority communities who have already experienced extreme terror under Rajapaksa’s leadership. Rajapaksa, a criminal who ideally should be tried in the International Criminal Court for command responsibility is being appointed as a leader yet again despite Srisena having first hand experienced what he is capable of. Rajapaksa’s new formed party SLPP gathered momentum amongst the majority Sinhalese voters while Srisena’s and Wickremsinghe’s parties were busy putting each other down. Srisena in his fear of loosing power has collaborated with the person he ousted to come in power. Given Rajapaksa’s past, who is to say Srisena will not meet the fate that he was trying to escape.
Dealing with the political turmoil, the Geo-economic interests are clearly visible, Rajapaksa is seen as a China’s Man in the island, days within this turmoil Beijing recognised Rajapaksa as the constitutional Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Burundi and New Delhi’s arch-enemy Pakistan has also joined the league endorsing his appointment. Certainly, the move by Burundi has been orchestrated by Chinese pressure it seems, and Pakistan’s stand lies with China as it pretends to be a promoter of CPEC. For China and Pakistan recent Maldives democratic elections more like a defeat in the South Asian waters. So, they have chosen to destabilise another democratically elected government by recognising this ill-fated removal of Elected Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.
With all leaders acting in pure self interest, the current atmosphere in Sri Lanka appears rather morbid. One can only hope that things will be different this time in the event that Rajapaksa is to remain the PM but the chances are bleak. Amit Weerasinghe, the leader of Mahson Balakaya responsible for the Anti Muslim riots in Kandy was released on a bail soon after the new PM was appointed. Many political analyst have pointed out, this cannot be a co-incidence. On the other hand Wckremesinghe’s supporters in thousands took to the streets to protest the now former PM’s undue removal and the supporters of the now PM stopped Arjun Ranatunga (Wickremesinghe’s strong loyalist) from entering his own office which led to his body guard shooting fire and a protestor’s death while another was injured. The point being, Rajapaksa’s arrival has already shed blood and released a criminal in a few days what the future holds can only be imagined.
We can only wait and find out as the pot has just been stirred as of now, but given the past can Sri Lanka afford to wait it out? Before it gets too late, restoring and making sure Sri Lanka retains its democracy should be a priority for the international community weather its through trade restrictions, economic sanctions or any other kind of alliance. Or it would not be long before the minorities are living their worst nightmare again.
Tripat Sekhon is a Research Intern at The Kootneeti (With additional inputs from Amrita Dhillon, Founding Editor of The Kootneeti & Honourary Analyst at Equilibrium Global and Defense Romania)