Frustrations over failure to protect Muslims after Easter bombings . . .
Muslim ministers and their deputies have resigned from their cabinet positions in the government of Sri Lanka, a country that is 70 per cent Buddhist. They are protesting what they say is the government’s failure to protect the country’s Muslim minority from Buddhist-led attacks following the Easter bombings by a local group linked to ISIS. Last week, the government pardoned the leader of the hardline Buddhist Power Force. He had been jailed for crimes related to abducting and threatening journalists. He is also associated with hate speech directed at Muslims, which could land him back in jail as the government has just proposed five-year jail terms for using social media to spread hate speech and ‘fake news.’
Pre-poll politics . . .
The resignations are a setback for President Maithripala Sirisena, who is looking weak ahead of presidential elections later this year. Sirisena, a practicing Buddhist, was already on shaky ground after trying (but failing) to sack his prime minister in October and replace him with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa and his brother, Gotabhaya, brought the country’s 26-year civil war to a violent end in 2009. Both brothers, who are also Buddhist, are expected to make a play for either president or prime minister.
Geostrategic implications . . .
If one of the Rajapaksa brothers wins, we could see Sri Lanka move back into China’s orbit. After several white elephant projects that left the country saddled in debt, Sirisena tried to distance the country from China and move closer to India and the U.S. If this week’s Shangri-La regional security dialogue is any indication, more and more countries – perhaps including Canada – will have to pick sides in a geostrategic rivalry led by China on one side, and the US and its allies on the other.