Sri Lankan President Maithiripala Sirisena has dissolved parliament and has called snap election in the country for January 5, forcing his political rival and deposed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to challenge the President’s decision in the country’s Supreme Court. Is the Sri Lankan President’s move aimed at scoring political points for himself or just an act of whims? But Sirisena undertook such step after former President and pro-China leader Mahinda Rajapaksa who was picked up as a new Prime Minister in place of Ranil Wickremesinghe, maintained that he lacked numbers to prove majority in the House. With this, political crisis in the island nation has further deepened.
Political affiliations of leaders along pro-India and pro-China lines are cited as the reason behind the current uncertainty in the country. If media reports are to be believed, differences between Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe deepened after the latter wanted container terminal project at the Colombo port to be handed over to an India-Japan joint venture as per Memorandum of Understanding signed by Sri Lanka, India and Japan. Wickremesighe also wanted that Mattala international airport, which is closed to Hambantota port, was handed over to India for its operation. Sirisena whose election on the presidential chair in 2015 took India to bear several unbearable costs, was against awarding this and other projects to India. His explanation was local companies, instead of foreign ones should be handed over infrastructure projects.
However, in his address to the nation, the President cited inappropriate handling of threat on his life by the country’s police chief, the Prime Minister’s inaction on bank fraud issue and differences with Wickremesinghe over several matters as the reason for the dismissal of the latter. Yet several eyes began to roll in suspicion after President Sirisena picked up former President Rajapaksa as the country’s new Prime Minister. It quickly led to a belief among foreign watchers that some foreign hands may be behind the Sri Lankan President’s sudden move. And this became quite apparent when first foreign emissary to welcome and meet Rajapaksa as the new Sri Lankan Prime Minister was found to be none else than the Colombo-based Chinese envoy.
For India, development in the island nation has emerged as a new headache. It issued formal statement in the aftermath of dismissal of Wickremesnghe, stating: “India is closely following the recent political developments in Sri Lanka. As a democracy and a close friendly neighbour, we hope that democratic values and the constitutional process will be respected. We will continue to extend our developmental assistance to the friendly people of Sri Lanka.” But New Delhi has so far not issued any formal statement after the Sri Lankan President dissolved the 225-member parliament.
Obviously, India which is closely watching political developments in Sri Lanka, does not want to plunge into the choppy waters of the island nation. It also doesn’t want to be seen taking any side in the country. But the US, Europe and the UN have expressed anger at sudden emergence of political crisis in the island nation. The US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, an agency that works within the Department of State, expressed its “concern” over the news on dissolution of the Sri Lankan parliament. “As a committed partner of Sri Lanka, we believe democratic institutions and process need to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity,” the US said. The UK has also expressed its concern at the state of affairs in Sri Lanka. “Concerned by news that Sri Lanka’s parliament has been dissolved days before it was due to be reconvened,” Mark Field, the UK’s minister of state for Asia and the Pacific said.
In the on-going crisis in the island nation what has come as a major jolt to President Sirisena is reported claim of deposed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe that the US and Japan have frozen more than a billion dollars of development aid. If it is true than for the fund starved country, the days ahead are bumpy and full of risks. Already, it has lost its sovereignty over the Hambantota port to China, the debt-ridden country may fall in deep financial crisis if the political situation is not resolved immediately.
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