View from the Neighbourhood: The Colombo drama

View from the Neighbourhood: The Colombo drama

A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent. Curated by Aakash Joshi.

View from the Neighbourhood: The Colombo drama
Newly appointed Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, center, leaves a Buddhist temple after meeting his supporters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has sacked the country’s prime minister and replaced him with a former strongman, state television said Friday. (Source: AP/PTI)

In what one report describes as a “palpably unconstitutional but politically daring move”, Sri Lankan President M Sirisena swore in Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister, while sacking incumbent Ranil Wickremesinghe. The editorial in The Island on October 27, titled ‘Constitutional coup’, says, “Whether those behind the constitutional coup, for that’s what it was, have got a simple parliamentary majority under its belt as claimed by Mr. Basil Rajapaksa can be proved if parliament is summoned this week as the UNP wishes. But the president is constitutionally empowered to prorogue parliament; if he does so, the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combination will obviously not be having the numbers they need and are engaging in a time buying exercise reminiscent of the attempt in August 1991 to impeach the then president Ranasinghe Premadasa.”

The editorial, like much of the Sri Lankan Press, then focuses on the drama that is bound to unfold in the coming days: “According to the line-up, as it existed until Friday, the United National Front for Good Governance as the UNP in its present avatar likes to call itself, had the largest block of 106 seats in the 225-member parliament. The United People’s Freedom Alliance comprising the so-called Joint Opposition, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna and sundry others had 95, the TNA 16, JVP six and the Muslim Congress and the Eelam People’s Democratic Party of Mr Douglas Devananda one each. As the new power structure was taking shape, two UNPers indicated they were defecting.”

The editorial also points out the u-turn that President Sirisena has taken: “Ironically, Sirisena often trumpeted that he would have been six feet under the ground if he did not win in 2015. Though he did not specify who would have put him there, it was obvious who he was talking about. The wheel has now turned a full circle and a president who unconstitutionally said that he would not make Mahinda Rajapaksa prime minister even if he had the numbers in August 2015 has now made him prime minister with no hard indication of whether the numbers have turned against Wickremesinghe or not.”

Imran in China

Munir Akram, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the UN, has written on the agenda for and implications of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s upcoming visit to China in Dawn. With the “US declaring a new Cold War against China and Russia” and the global order in place since World War II unravelling, “Pakistan’s relationship with China provides an essential anchor for its security and foreign policy and the foundation for its socio-economic development”, according to Akram.


While the Pakistan army chief’s visit to China has cemented the relationship between the two countries on the security front, Khan’s visit should have a politico-diplomatic agenda in mind, according to the article. Akram adds: “Given the concerted Indian and US pressure and threats against Pakistan, there is need for more vocal Chinese support to Pakistan on its core security challenges. China should condemn the threats of force and economic pressure on Pakistan; call for a peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with international law; and oppose all threats to disrupt the CPEC project.”

Akram concludes by saying that, “the anticipated strengthening of the strategic partnership is not designed as an alliance against any third country (unlike the US-India relationship explicitly meant to ‘contain’ China). But the reinforced Pakistan-China partnership will enable both countries to more confidently confront the multiple challenges they face.”

Federal frontier

The October 25 editorial in The Himalayan Times flags the challenges in Nepal over its attempts at federal government. “Province 2 government’s move of going ahead with its own Provincial Police Bill should serve as a reminder of how carefully the country should tread the federalism path rather than a cause for confrontation,” says the editorial, before moving on to larger principles on the devolution of powers. “Nepal moved to a federal structure after years of struggle against the unitary system which kept powers concentrated at the centre. The interim constitution of 2007 guaranteed federalism, and in 2015 the Constituent Assembly delivered a new constitution, ushering in a new era in Nepal,” it says. But “the federal Parliament, even after 10 months of its election, has failed to introduce required federal laws that will provide for the setting of smooth functioning of governments at lower levels. There seems to be quite a lackadaisical approach on the part of federal government.” The editorial then calls on governments at all levels to work in tandem, rather than at odds with each.