The Sri Lankan parliamentary elections slated for August 17 are essentially about one issue — whether former President Mahinda Rajapaksa should or should not be at the helm of the island nation’s affairs. Contrary to expectations, his defeat in the January 8 presidential polls did not settle the matter. Winner Maithripala Sirisena had failed to take over Rajapaksa’s formidable outfits, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United Peoples’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which had a majority in the 225-member parliament. Sirisena used his prerogative to put his electoral ally, the United National Party (UNP), in power.
But a lack of a parliamentary majority stymied the government’s efforts to carry out the sweeping constitutional changes Sirisena had promised. Critical money bills were not presented in parliament for fear of defeat. Sirisena tried to buy over SLFP/UPFA MPs by offering them ministerial berths, but few fell for the bait as the majority were confident of winning the parliamentary elections under Rajapaksa, who, in their estimation, had a clear edge over Sirisena among rural Sinhalese Buddhists who comprise 70 per cent of the population. Sirisena’s efforts to tarnish the image of Rajapaksa and his cohorts through multiple criminal and corruption charges cut no ice. In desperation, Sirisena cast his lot with the UNP and its alliance, the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG), which had successfully propped him up in the presidential election.
The UNFGG is gung-ho about its prospects as it believes that Rajapaksa’s base and morale have been further eroded due to the 7,000 complaints and cases registered against him and his cohorts. And being out of power, the state machinery, which he brazenly misused earlier, is no longer available to him. Further, he has made no efforts to win back the minority Tamils, Muslims and Catholics whose en masse support for Sirisena had tilted the balance in the January 8 poll. Rajapaksa’s dalliance with China continues to irk regional power India and the US-led West, which could impose economic sanctions over the war crimes issue through the UN. On top of it all, a recent survey by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) found that 58 per cent of Lankans were satisfied with the Sirisena regime. However, Rajapaksa hopes that quarrels over plums of office among the UNFGG MPs will enable him to use his skills in horse-trading and capture power eventually.