Sri Lanka to hold elections after constitutional crisis

Sri Lanka will hold its twice-delayed parliamentary elections today, with the incumbent Rajapaksa family expected to retain political control of

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Photo: REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Sri Lanka will hold its twice-delayed parliamentary elections today, with the incumbent Rajapaksa family expected to retain political control of the country.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party have campaigned on a nationalist platform capitalising on the electorate’s fears of terrorism. The brothers’ tenure has been characterised by ethnic chauvinism, militarisation and civil society suppression. The party intends to secure a two-thirds super-majority that would enable the Rajapaksas to repeal the constitution’s 19th amendment, which is intended to limit executive powers relative to the parliament and judiciary.

Despite concerns surrounding COVID-19 and its impact on the economy, the election is likely to be a geopolitical watershed for the region. Given its strategic importance in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has been key to the regional struggle for influence between India and China relations. Gotabaya seems likely to lean towards China if re-elected, having signed up for over $1 billion in pandemic relief from Beijing. Beijing has also embedded itself in his mostly Sinhalese-Buddhists base. These signs indicate that Sri Lanka will continue to be earmarked as a strategic Belt and Road partner and ally to China. The SLPP’s re-election could therefore lead to a deterioration in relations with India and send Sri Lanka down the path towards a de facto junta, run by a pro-China president with indefinite executive powers.

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