The results of the Sri Lankan parliamentary elections were foretold from the time of the February 2018 local election sweep by Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. Voters, who had decided in 2015 to throw out an authoritarian Rajapaksa regime and opted for a seemingly bold challenger in Maithripala Sirisena, had by then already tired of the dysfunctional relationship between him and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Early in his term, Wickremesinghe was seen as shielding corrupt friends. Sirisena was seen as being so mortally afraid of Rajapaksa’s return to power that he had stopped communicating with his prime minister.
But the last straw was the failure of this duo to prevent the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage despite credible, real time intelligence from India. The near two-thirds victory for the SLPP has re-concretised the Rajapaksa family grip on Sri Lanka, while two dynastic political parties that shaped the destiny of Sri Lanka through the last century, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party, may have breathed their last. The old Colombo ruling elites have been all but buried, and a new dynast has risen in Sajith Premadasa, the son of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was elected last year on a majoritarian Sinhala Buddhist plank built around his reputation as the architect of the 2009 military victory over the LTTE, is a recent politician, and more powerful than the PM under the Constitution. But his flamboyant brother, Mahinda, who has been the PM since Wickremesinghe stepped down last year soon after Gotabaya’s election, has been a career politician for nearly 50 years. With his popularity reinforced, he will be no retiring number 2. Mahinda continues to nurse the ambition of becoming president once again. Brother willing, his parliamentary sweep — just five short of the two-thirds mark in the 225-member House — could help him reverse the biggest achievement of the previous government, which was to restore a two-term bar on running for the presidency, and trim the powers of the Executive President.
The Gotabaya-Mahinda government has already shown that it will wear its majoritarianism on its sleeve. Displays of muscular Sinhala Buddhism in the wake of last year’s Easter killings carried out by a group of Islamist radicals may have overshadowed the long-standing Tamil question, but it remains an unhealed wound. Earlier this year, Sri Lanka withdrew from Resolution 30/1 of the UN Human Rights Council, under which it had committed to fix accountability for war crimes and provide justice and reparations to the Tamil minority. The Tamil National Alliance has shrunk in this election. Mahinda paid no heed to India’s entreaties after the civil war ended to devolve more powers to Tamil areas. The brothers Rajapaksa are even less likely to pay attention now. Sri Lanka’s new ruling clan is sharply aware of India’s own majoritarian turn, as well as its troubles with China on the LAC and in the region. That the Rajapaksas will continue using Beijing as a counter-weight to Delhi is a reality that cannot be wished away.
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