President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to dismiss parliament six months ahead of schedule and call for fresh elections was expected. Ever since he swept the presidential polls in November, Gotabaya has consolidated his political position and is now seeking to establish control over parliament as well. Sri Lanka’s Constitution allows the president to declare elections ahead of schedule only after parliament completes four-and-a-half years of its tenure, which it just did. With Gotabaya’s popularity on the rise and the Opposition in disarray, the Rajapaksas — Gotabaya and his brother and former president, Mahinda — seem well-placed ahead of the elections.
The present ad hoc arrangement wherein Mahinda heads a minority government as prime minister in a parliament dominated by the Opposition, has clearly run its course. Gotabaya would want his party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, to have a majority in parliament so that the necessary constitutional amendments could be made to restore full authority to the presidency. Under the previous president, Maithripala Sirisena, Sri Lanka had amended its constitution to reduce the concentration of power in the president’s office. This arrangement failed to deliver on governance mainly because Sirisena, who won the presidential polls as the joint Opposition candidate against Mahinda, and the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, could not work together. The Easter terror bombings by a local Islamist group that claimed over 250 lives exemplified the failure in administration as the two offices blamed each other for neglecting security alerts. The bombings, the first major incident of terrorism since the days of the LTTE, were a setback for the Sri Lankan economy that had not fully recovered from the long years of civil war, but they shifted popular opinion in favour of a strong unitarian government, and against a federal arrangement. The upcoming parliamentary elections will coincide with the first anniversary of the Easter bombings; hopefully, it will not become a polarising issue in the elections.
The Opposition has announced an alliance, Samagi Jana Balawegaya, with Sajith Premadasa, who lost the presidential polls in November, as the prime ministerial candidate. While Premadasa is backed by a broad spectrum of groups, including some Tamil and Muslim parties, he needs to win over his own party colleagues, for instance, Wickremesinghe. The Tamil and Muslim parties will first need to consolidate their strength in the north and the east before they can carve out space in a polity that is increasingly unconcerned about the minorities.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines