The return to power of controversial former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Sri Lanka's prime minister is unconstitutional and destabilising. International actors should make future security and economic cooperation contingent on parliament reconvening immediately to select a prime minister through legal channels.
Constitutional and political crisis ended as President Sirisena reappointed deposed PM Ranil Wickremesinghe to office 16 Dec, following Supreme Court rulings blocking Sirisena’s attempt to install former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as PM and call early general elections, in developments hailed as significant victory for rule of law and parliamentary democracy. Court of Appeal 3 Dec issued interim order blocking Rajapaksa and his ministers from holding office, following petition by 122 parliamentarians who had passed two no confidence motions against Rajapaksa in Nov (which Sirisena had refused to recognise). Wickremesinghe won 12 Dec confidence vote in parliament with 117-0 majority, after Rajapaksa supporters boycotted parliamentary session following 29 Nov vote to deny PM’s office funding. Supreme Court 13 Dec unanimously ruled Sirisena did not have power to dissolve parliament before it had completed its four-and-a-half year term, thus voiding Sirisena’s 9 Nov dissolution and call for snap elections. Supreme Court 14 Dec refused to overturn Court of Appeal’s 3 Dec interim order. Bowing to Supreme Court’s two rulings, Rajapaksa 15 Dec “resigned” disputed position as PM; week-long dispute between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe over ministerial portfolios delayed finalisation of new Wickremesinghe-led United National Front govt. At Wickremesinghe’s 16 Dec swearing-in as PM, Sirisena repeated attacks on Wickremesinghe’s honesty and suitability for role, while Rajapaksa in 15 Dec “resignation speech” vowed to “bring the forces opposed to the country down to their knees” and singled out Tamil National Alliance for criticism, cementing fears among observers that political blockages that led to attempted constitutional coup remain in place. Economic fallout of political turmoil and uncertainty continued, including decline in value of currency, suspension of several key foreign loans and grants; ratings agencies 4 Dec downgraded country’s credit. Buddhist-Muslim tensions rose following 26 Dec vandalism of several Buddha statues in Mawanella area; nine Muslim youth arrested in subsequent days.
Tamil-speaking women in Sri Lanka’s north and east pushed for accountability and truth during the country’s civil war but have been marginalised during the transitional justice process. The government and international actors must include their voices and address their injustices and difficult economic situation to ensure lasting peace.
Fragile hopes for lasting peace and cooperation across party and ethnic lines are imperilled. To avoid leaders of the corrupt and violent former regime taking back control of the country, President Sirisena’s two-year-old “unity government” should put aside short-term calculations and return to reform.
Seven years after its civil war ended, Sri Lanka’s democratic space has reopened but strains are building from a powerful opposition, institutional overlaps and a weakened economy. To make reforms a real success, the prime minister and president should cooperate with openness and redouble efforts to tackle legacies of war like impunity, Tamil detainees and military-occupied land.
Sri Lanka’s 17 August parliamentary elections will test the country’s fragile democratic opening. With the hardline Sinhala nationalism of ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa challenging the “good governance” agenda of the United National Party and President Sirisena, the outcome will affect chances for reconciliation and lasting resolution of the country’s long-running conflicts.
Sri Lanka’s upcoming presidential election promises more competition than was initially anticipated. But with that comes a great risk of violence. Long-term stability and post-war reconciliation can only be achieved through a peaceful election resulting in a government committed to serving the interests of all Sri Lankans.
It is particularly damaging that the reasons the U.S. Government gave for leaving the Human Rights Council – for being hypocritical and biased, echo so closely criticisms that the previous Sri Lankan Government and many Lankan politicians in opposition and in the current Government have made about the Council’s engagement with and resolutions on Sri Lanka. The U.S. withdrawal will have lasting damage and will strengthen governments and politicians across the globe who prefer to be left to their own devices, even when this involves violating the fundamental rights of their own citizens.
There is good reason to believe [the Sinhala Buddhists attacks in Sri Lanka] are partly designed to provoke a Muslim response, which would then justify more violence against Muslims.
Many Sinhalese and Buddhists have [the sense] that Sri Lanka [is a] Sinhala and Buddhist island, and [that] other communities are here on the sufferance of the majority.
The [Sri Lankan] government will need to figure out how to come together. They need to go back to the drawing board and return to their fundamental principles and start to deliver.
[Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa] has a strong core constituency and a good set of issues, whereas the government has to pull together a range of minority constituents.
2017 has seen a worrisome return of violence and hate speech in Sri Lanka.
Crisis Group’s first update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on Burundi’s dangerous referendum, militant Buddhists and anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka, the impact of the Venezuelan crisis on the region, and the situation in Yemen. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
The bloom is off two years of hope that the rule of law can be restored for all and that a 60-year failure to grant Tamils a fair share of power, in the Sinhala majority island, can be rectified.
Originally published in The Diplomat Magazine
Originally published in Inside Story
As the United Nations Human Rights Council meets in Geneva this month, it’s time to assess how far Sri Lanka has come since last year’s passage of a landmark resolution to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights.