The Crisis in Sri Lanka

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1755 ... February 4, 2019

The Crisis in Sri Lanka

Kanishka Goonewardena

"In the name of God, go!" Rarely have these words of Oliver Cromwell been recycled with such farce and frequency as during Sri Lanka’s recent political crisis, not least by parliamentarians addressing rivals. As far as crises go, however, it was a remarkably peaceful affair outside of parliament and unrelated to any kind of revolution. Everyday life continued as usual even in Sri Lanka’s largest city Colombo despite extra-bold newspaper headlines, which were greeted in the distant North by "near silence."

Yet there was no shortage of drama and spectacle. In the early days of turmoil, parents were advised to cover their children’s eyes when footage appeared on TV from parliament, where proceedings were disrupted by MPs... engaged in fistfights, flinging furniture, drawing knives, and throwing chili pepper at ostensible opponents in the chamber. Curious foreign journalists, seasoned diplomats, and local NGOs minding human rights rushed to warn of an impending "bloodbath." In such wishful thinking, one could be forgiven for sensing a yearning for "external intervention."

The crisis seemed to appear out of nowhere on the evening of Friday, October 26, 2018 when President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly removed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party (UNP) from office and appointed in his stead the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. Sirisena himself had defeated Rajapaksa in the last presidential election on January 8, 2015, having defected in late 2014 from a senior position in Rajapaksa’s United People Freedom Alliance (UPFA) regime to become the surprise but successful candidate of the United National Front (UNF) opposition.

Over the last weekend of October, a new cabinet, too, was haphazardly sworn in, with the promise of a caretaker government. This was to be composed of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by the new Prime Minister Rajapaksa and President Sirisena’s loyalists of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and its coalition in parliament, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) -- a part of which had collaborated with the multiparty UNF "national government" of "good governance" led by Wickremesinghe’s UNP since the parliamentary elections of August 2015.

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