Sri Lanka stares into bleak future     

Ever since President Maithripala Sirisena appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as PM, overthrowing Ranil Wickramasinghe on October 26, the island nation has been hitting headlines

Sri Lanka stares into bleak future      
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Kavitha Muralidharan

It is not unusual for Sri Lanka to hit international headlines. This time, for different reasons. Ever since President Maithripala Sirisena appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister, overthrowing Ranil Wickramasinghe on October 26, the island nation has been hitting the international headlines.

On November 15 and 16, the Sri Lankan Parliament witnessed some ugly scenes with members of Sirisena’s Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) and Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka PodujanaPeramuna (SLPP) party unleashing violence in the house and attacking speaker KaruJayasurya.

Earlier on November 9, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka had stayed the President’s decision to dissolve the Parliament. The court had also stalled the Election Commission from proceeding with Elections, which Sirisena had announced, will be held in January 2019. While Srisena had initially agreed to convene Parliament as demanded by the opposition, he later reneged on the promise and instead called for a snap election.

Observers in Sri Lanka feel the violence in Parliament could be a well-thought strategy by supporters of Sirisena and Rajapaksa to ‘drag the issue out’ till Supreme Court resolves it. “It is clearly a strategy to push through the crisis. They want the Supreme Court to resolve it one way or the other. I don’t think this stand-off will be over anytime soon” says Ahilan Kadirgamar, Jaffna-based political analyst.

Meanwhile, Rajapaksa’s return to the mainstream has left the Tamil community understandably worried. “The threats faced by Tamil activists and journalists is more imminent than it has been since 2015” says Mario Arulthas, Advocacy director with People for Equality and Relief in Sri Lanka (PEARL)

The island nation is set for three major elections next year – the presidential election, elections to provincial council and parliamentary elections – and the crisis might continue to deepen until then. “Also, more importantly, it could no longer be the two party system in Sri Lanka, with SLPP gaining more prominence” Ahilan says.

While Ranil Wickramasinghe’s United National Party and Sirisena struck an unlikely alliance in 2015, they promised a ‘new era’ for the country and offered it what observers called the ‘last chance of democracy.’ RanilWickramasinghe in 2015 famously told journalists that ‘there were free to report without the fear of being abducted.’

Yet sources say Ranil was not keen on going ahead with trial against Rajapaksa only because it would make ‘Sirisena more influential in SLFP.’ Sirisena chose to align with his bete-noire Rajapaksa when he realised this. “He was keen to become the President again, and that is why he chose to side with Rajapaksa. But whatever Sirisena has done does not augur well for democracy. It might lead the nation to fascism and in the end the common people will be affected,” says Ahilan.

Meanwhile, Rajapaksa’s return to the mainstream has left the Tamil community understandably worried. “The threats faced by Tamil activists and journalists is more imminent than it has been since 2015” says Mario Arulthas, Advocacy director with People for Equality and Relief in Sri Lanka (PEARL). “I know for a fact that many journalists have already started self-censorship. Some of them are deleting their social media content while others are deleting their accounts altogether. One journalist has left the country,” he says.

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