Aug 10, 2020-Monday
After winning the presidential elections last November, and now winning a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections, the Rajapaksa brothers in Sri Lanka have cemented their control over the island’s polity. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has firmly consolidated his power as president; the parliamentary win now brings back the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister.
Both the presidential and now the parliamentary win are not surprising. Citizens were tired of the infighting and inefficiencies of the older dispensation. There remains a deep Sinhalese majoritarian impulse, which the Rajapaksas leverage by virtue of being the leaders who defeated the Tamil Tigers and promising what, in effect, is an exclusivist Sinhalese State. And their party, the Sri Lanka People’s Party, remains the best organised formation even as the other parties are struggling with leadership, ideological, and organisational issues.
But while the win itself is not surprising, the consequences are worrisome — for both Sri Lanka and India. Armed with its legislative might, there is a possibility that the Rajapaksas will once again seek to centralise authority, trample institutional checks, and chip away at democratic liberties. Given their discriminatory ethnic outlook, the prospects for reconciliation, justice, and powers to the minorities remain grim. And while they may be somewhat more careful and make the right noises in front of an Indian audience on China, expect the engagement and partnership with Beijing to only grow. India should engage with the regime more vigorously, and diplomatically underline its concerns.