The President of Sri Lanka has sent his island nation tumbling further into a constitutional crisis by dissolving the Parliament on Friday night and ordering snap general elections on January 5, 2019.
President Maithripala Sirisena comes through the whole episode as a coldblooded opportunist who tried to change Prime Ministers midstream. On sensing that the power struggle was not ending in their favour as a majority could not be engineered in Parliament for the new Prime Minister, Mahindra Rajapapksa, a former President of Sri Lanka, Sirisena opted to further cloud issues by taking more unilateral action.
Fresh elections were ordered in a questionable manner even as the ousted incumbent Ranil Wickremasinghe stays on in Temple Trees, the official Colombo residence of the Prime Minister. The dissolution of Parliament goes against the Constitution of Sri Lanka, a country that was an early model for democracy in South Asia.
The saddest development in this unseemly power struggle is how the democratic institution of Parliament has been disrespected. In staving off the pressure brought on by such powers as the USA, EU and the UN, Mr Sirisena and Mr Rajapaksa, his protégé now after having been his mentor in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, may be acting at the behest of another major power.
The motivation could be their perception of the public mood that seemed to be swinging back towards Mr Rajapaksa, once perceived as the savior of the nation who brought the civil war against the Tamil Tigers to a victorious end in 2009.
This may have been evidenced in the February elections to 340 local authorities. Constitutional propriety, like the checks and balances between the President, the Prime Minister and the Legislature, have been thrown out of the door by Mr Sirisena. He has been forced to call for elections because horse trading in the absence of an anti-defection law in Sri Lanka could not bring about the desired result despite the promise of huge sums of money to legislators.
The crux of the differences in the alliance between Mr Sirisena’s SLFP and Mr Wickremasinghe’s UNP was with regard to leasing out infrastructure projects to India although Sri Lanka is already reeling financially after freely leasing out such projects to China during Mr Rajapaksa’s regime as President. Within a few days of Mr Wickremasinghe meeting the Indian PM in New Delhi last month and discussing Indian projects in Sri Lanka came his dramatic sacking as PM.
But all India can do now, besides giving good counsel to a neighbor, is to be on guard about its assets in Sri Lanka staying secure while awaiting the outcome of the process to elect a new government in what is strictly Sri Lanka’s domestic issue.
A possible solution to this standoff between Prime Ministers lies in going to the people again although Mr Sirisena is attempting this only after having destroyed an institution like Parliament by dissolving it in a decision of unprecedented dimensions.