During the ensuing pandemic much of the world came to a halt, but political activities cannot be restrained for long. After having faced two postponements, the Sri Lankan Parliamentary elections of August 5 became the biggest political activity to have happened in South Asia since the world came to a standstill with the outbreak of COVID-19.
The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) secured a landslide victory winning 145 of the 225 parliamentary seats, a meagre five seats short of the 2/3rd majority. The opposition was wiped off with Sajith Premadasa’s Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) a distant second with 54 seats and the grand old United National Party (UNP) with just 1 Member of Parliament.
The SLPP had won the Presidential elections of 2019 instating Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the President of Sri Lanka. Much of their Parliamentary election campaign too echoed the same sentiments. Most of their campaign was based on the achievements of the Government under President Rajapaksa and the strong leadership that the President could provide in containing the pandemic.
So sure was the party of its governance record that a new election manifesto too wasn’t rolled out and all communication was based on the used in the Presidential Elections of 2019. The SLPP came to power in 2019 riding on the rising wave of Sinhala nationalism which sustained all through the Parliamentary elections too. The elections are also a testimony to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s soaring popularity in a political career spanning five decades and President Rajapaksa’s rising power.
The Rajapaksa brothers enjoy the credibility of strength and have been delivering on their promise of strong centralised leadership. With the 2/3rd majority in Parliament along with its allies, the new government is expected to go stronger on the long-pending constitutional amendments. The SLPP has been a vocal supporter of a more centralised and stronger Presidential office and is expected to get the Judiciary, Legislature and Executive under the direct control of the President which were given to independent commissions under the previous government. The SLPP has been a long advocate of President being both the Head of State as well as the Head of Government of Sri Lanka.
Having received such a mandate, it remains for the SLPP to go strong on its promise of keeping the country united backed by equitable development in ensuring peace and prosperity of all Sri Lankans beyond ethnic lines. The first challenge for the new government will be to keep the country united by placing checks and balances on any signs of alienation which are to re-surface owing to the rise of a majoritarian Sinhala sentiment.
The second challenge for the government is to get the economy back on track. Tourism which makes for a major share of foreign exchange earning took a hit after the Easter bombings of 2019 followed by a global COVID lockdown. The SLPP Manifesto mentions of giving Sri Lanka a people-centric economy based on the implementation of effective sectoral structural changes. It is time for Sri Lanka to harness its green potential by moving beyond the conventional agro-practices and coupling them with technological advancements.
The third challenge for the new government will be to strike a balancing act in its diplomatic relations with India and China. Prime Minister Rajapaksa was said to be closer to the Chinese dispensation during his previous regime as the President of Sri Lanka. Keeping in line with the emerging global order and the shifting balance of power in the neighbourhood, the Rajapaksas are expected to maintain a non-aligned and friendly foreign policy with both India and China.
In listing the ten key priority policies of the Rajapaksa Government, the SLPP Manifesto mentions “No harmful agreements/treaties will be entered into by our Government”. At another place with reference to the President’s idea of a People-centric economy, the manifesto mentions “vital national assets will not be sold to foreigners”. Both these statements are made in the backdrop of the Hambantota Port lease agreement in China signed in 2017.
In the light of this, it also remains to be seen what will be the fate of East Container Terminal Project at the Colombo Port which was put on hold by the Rajapaksa government after a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between India, Japan and the Sirisena Government. However, India and Sri Lanka are long-time maritime neighbours with a civilisational and historical connect which is expected to drive the bilateral relationship forward. This was also made evident from the tweet that Prime Minister Rajapaksa had put out while thanking the Indian Prime Minister for his best wishes on the electoral victory.
Braving the pandemic the people of Sri Lanka have voted for a stronger and more stable government which is expected to herald in a new era of development while delivering on its promise of a Smart, Secure and Safe Sri Lanka. “We will ensure #lka will not stand disappointed during our tenure” read Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tweet after the results were declared.