India should be ready to help strengthen Sri Lanka’s democracy
Ranil Wickremesinghe has made a triumphant return as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister after President Maithripala Sirisena backed down in a nearly two-month-long power struggle. But the crisis in the island nation may be far from over.Updated: Dec 18, 2018 08:54 IST
Ranil Wickremesinghe has made a triumphant return as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister after President Maithripala Sirisena backed down in a nearly two-month-long power struggle. But the crisis in the island nation may be far from over. Shortly after administering the oath of office to Mr Wickremesinghe on Sunday, Mr Sirisena accused the premier of corrupt leadership and said he was unsure there were guarantees they could continue their journey together. Clearly, everything is not well between the two leaders, whose relationship broke down in October because of differences over policy matters and other issues, including the award of a key infrastructure project to India. Mr Wickremesinghe’s return is also an embarrassment for Mr Sirisena, who had replaced him with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Though Mr Rajapaksa was emboldened by his party’s success in local government elections earlier this year, he was unable to secure a majority in Parliament on two occasions and was forced to resign after the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling suspending him from functioning as the prime minister. Mr Sirisena also had to go back on his repeated pledges not to reappoint Mr Wickremesinghe to gain parliamentary approval for a temporary budget by January 1.
Mr Wickremesinghe has said he will now focus on restoring normalcy and putting development programmes back on track but observers are pointing to the president’s acrimonious speech of Sunday as a sign of the gulf between the two leaders that can perhaps only be addressed by fresh elections. Though the two leaders might put aside their differences to clear government spending and the repayment of $1 billion in foreign debts in January, it seems highly unlikely they will be able to forge a sustainable working relationship. Several issues that led to the differences between Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickremesinghe — including the investigations of alleged abuses during Sri Lanka’s civil war and alleged insider trading during a bond issue that involved a close friend of the premier — are still unresolved and will only add to the lack of trust between them.
India, which had adopted a wait-and-watch stance as the political crisis played out in Sri Lanka, had refused to recognise the government of Rajapakse, who is widely perceived in New Delhi as pro-China. Mr Rajapaksa’s actions during his term as president, such as opening up Colombo port to Chinese warships, had drawn the ire of India and many in New Delhi will be glad he didn’t succeed in his attempted power grab. But given the possibility of a fresh crisis, India must stand ready to do its bit to strengthen Sri Lanka’s democracy and institutions.