The Sri Lankan electorate has voted to sustain the changes that have taken place since the presidential election of January 8, when the common opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena scored a surprise victory over Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Apart from minorities’ support for President Sirisena, what really led to Mr Rajapaksa’s setback was the fact that the venality of his administration was too painful and recent to be forgotten by many Sinhalese.
Sri Lanka emerges from this latest election with a hung Parliament but outlines of a new government are clear.
He will be sworn in as prime minister this week after his UNP won 106 seats in the 225-member house, up from about 40 in the previous election. Six months after defeating Rajapaksa for the presidency, Sirisena dissolved parliament in June, calculating that Rajapaksa-tainted by corruption allegations and no longer with access to the levers of government-would fail to eke out a new victory for the premiership.
After receiving assurances from Sirisena, Wickremesinghe is expected to be sworn in today as the country’s new prime minister. The new cabinet will include members of both parties and various smaller ones.
In his first address to the media after winning the polls, Wickremesinghe said he was ready to take oaths as the nation’s new prime minister and pledged to work for the betterment of his people.
Ranil’s term in office might go for extensive talks on a proposed land bridge between India and Sri Lanka.
Numerous island’s Tamil-majority areas are also among its poorest. As a leader who has loved his party as much as any other, he would need to create space and set the pace for the SLFP-UPFA to move forward beyond him.
Rajapakse’s removal was part of Washington’s broader “pivot to Asia” directed at undermining Chinese influence throughout the region and preparing for war against China.
But the unassuming Sirisena, who started out as a “positive fluke” selected by the broad-based civic movement that campaigned to end the Rajapaksa era, has surprised even close aides with a Machiavellian ability to win with a weak hand. The Tamil party won 16 seats. In the hallowed subcontinental political culture, many will side with the party in power. He may yet face war crime charges as investigations of human rights abuses are ongoing by the United Nations Commission.
“I want everyone to come together now, think of the country, think of the people”, Wickremesinghe said.
In the Tamil-inhabited North of the country, the main issue was whether the voters will support Tamil nationalism, and a confrontational posture against the government that is elected, or an accommodation with the government. Opposition over economic policy is unlikely. The very poor performance of the Buddhist People’s Front, a Buddhist monk-led party, shows that the anti-Muslim sentiment of the past few years wasnot a bottom-up phenomenon.
It is unlikely Rajapaksa or his loyalists will play any role in the coalition government.