Familiar names on the ballot . . .
Sri Lankans will head to the polls on November 16 to choose a new president. The front-runners include some familiar names. Gotabaya Rajapaksa will represent the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), a nationalist party that draws much of its support from the majority Sinhalese Buddhists. He served as Defence Minister under his brother Mahinda, who was president from 2005 until his unexpected defeat in 2015. Rajapaksa’s strongest competition comes from Sajith Premadasa of the United National Party (UNP), a right-leaning, pro-Western party. Premadasa is the son of a former president who was assassinated by ethnic minority Tamil separatists in 1993.
The year of governing dangerously . . .
Events of the past year will give voters plenty to think about. In October 2018, the outgoing president, Maithripala Sirisena, caused a constitutional kerfuffle when he tried to unilaterally replace the prime minister with none other than his former rival, Mahinda Rajapaksa. The incident raised concerns about whether Sri Lanka’s democracy is resting on a shaky foundation. Then, on Easter Sunday, a series of ISIS-linked bombings of churches and hotels left in their wake questions about the government’s failure to act on credible intelligence of the plot. That is likely to boost Rajapaksa’s appeal, as he is seen as a strongman who deals decisively with security matters.
A lot at stake . . .
The election’s outcome will reverberate beyond Sri Lanka’s borders. The country’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean has elevated its importance to all of China, India, and the United States. Gotabaya is aligned with China, although he will have to defend the debt hangover from Chinese-funded projects his brother undertook when in power. The most prominent of these resulted in China’s 99-year lease of the Port of Hambantota on the country’s south coast. Moreover, if Gotabaya prevails next month, he will ignore the UN’s request to investigate war crimes allegedly committed against minority Tamils at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war which lasted from 1983 to 2009). The man at the centre of those allegations is the former Defence Minister himself.
- The Brookings Institution: Sri Lanka’s presidential elections: Progress, regression, or paralysis?
- Reuters: Record number of candidates to contest Sri Lanka’s presidential election
- Washington Post: Sri Lanka presidential hopeful says won’t honor deal with UN