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Sri Lanka

CrisisWatch Sri Lanka

Unchanged Situation

Ruling party Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) won resounding victory in parliamentary elections, paving way for unbridled executive powers for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and increasingly Sinhala nationalist policies. Following peaceful campaign, 5 Aug legislative elections resulted in ruling party SLPP securing 145 of 225 seats in parliament, enough – together with allied parties – to achieve two-thirds majority SLPP sought in order to amend constitution and unshackle presidential powers. In prominent Buddhist temple near capital Colombo, Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as PM 9 Aug. Mahinda and Gotabaya 12 Aug announced new cabinet and state ministers, giving portfolios to themselves and to three other family members; other appointees included Gotabaya’s personal lawyer as justice minister and retired admiral as foreign secretary. Cabinet 19 Aug approved repealing 19th amendment to constitution, which limits presidential powers, and established committee under justice ministry to draft replacement. In speech at opening of new parliament, Gotabaya 20 Aug promised that once 19th amendment had been replaced, govt would draft new constitution in which “priority will be given to the concept of one country, one law for all the people” and which will allow govt to make decisions freely without being influenced by “extremists”. Former Director of Police Criminal Investigations Department Shani Abeysekara remanded in custody 20 Aug accused of fabricating evidence in 2015 murder conviction; Abeysekara’s arrest widely seen as retribution for his key role investigating major criminal cases implicating senior officials in 2005-2015 Rajapaksa govt. Joint letter to Sri Lanka govt from six UN Special Rapporteurs sent in June and publicised 25 Aug expressed “grave concern over the seemingly arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention” of Muslim lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, in “what may be a reprisal for his legal work and human rights advocacy”. President 24 Aug appointed four prominent Buddhist monks to join all-Sinhalese task force on archaeological heritage in multi-ethnic eastern province. Foreign Secretary Adm. Jayantha Colombage announced Sri Lanka will adopt “India first approach” in its foreign policy and would “not do anything harmful to India’s strategic security interests”, despite China’s increasing influence in Sri Lanka.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

25 Apr 2019
The president has tried to weaken [Sri Lanka's Prime Minister] in many ways, including taking the police under his control. So it's entirely possible that the police wouldn't share information with ministers not aligned with the president. AFP

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
24 Jun 2018
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. Sunday Observer

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
8 Mar 2018
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. Al Jazeera

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
6 Mar 2018
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 Guardian

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
18 Feb 2018
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. CNN

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
15 Feb 2018
[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. The Economist

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka

Latest Updates

Q&A / Asia

Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election Brings Back a Polarising Wartime Figure

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decisive victory in Sri Lanka’s presidential election reflects voters’ concerns over security, poor economic prospects and ineffective governance – but also indicates the country’s dangerous ethnic polarisation. Many worry that Rajapaksa, a Sinhalese nationalist, will energise anti-Muslim campaigning and further alienate the Tamil community.

Commentary / Asia

Sri Lanka Election Sparks Fear of Return to Violent Past

Sri Lanka’s powerful Rajapaksa family appears to be making a political comeback, and presidential front runner Gotabaya Rajapaksa has a troubled, violent history with Tamils and Muslims. These groups and others worry Gotobaya’s election will leave them more vulnerable, and threatens fragile democratic progress after decades of war.

Report / Asia

After Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings: Reducing Risks of Future Violence

The devastating ISIS-inspired attacks last Easter targeting Sri Lanka’s Christians have triggered a dangerous backlash against the country’s Muslims. Colombo urgently needs to correct the intelligence failures that led to the Easter attacks and curb discriminatory practices and policies that further harm innocent Muslim communities.

Commentary / Asia

Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings: Peaceful Coexistence Under Attack

The lethal Easter bombings in Sri Lanka have stunned a country still recovering from decades of internal war. Political and religious leaders alike should reject the rhetoric of collective blame and reaffirm the island’s strained but living tradition of intercommunal amity.

Briefing / Asia

Sri Lanka: Stepping Back from a Constitutional Crisis

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. 

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Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
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