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Co-Written by Punsara Amarasinghe & Eshan Jayawardane

The enigmatic nature    of Sri Lanka was once again manifested by overall results of the recently held local election. The landslide victory marked by Former president Mahinda Rajapakshe’s newly established political party “People’s Front”(Podu Jana Peramuna) has disorientated the two main political parties of the island. In fact the local election was delayed for a longer period due to various reasons. According to the election commissioner of Sri Lanka Mahinda Deshapriya 8326 local councilors  have been elected from this election for 24 municipal councils, 41 urban councils, 275 pradeshiya sabhas which represent the third tire of the legislative body of Sri Lanka. Moreover this year local election was marked by guaranteeing 25% women representation in each council and also the first time Sri Lanka followed a mixed electoral model whereby 60 % of the members are elected by the first-past-the-post system and the rest through closed list proportional representation.

Throughout the election campaign two main political parties in Sri Lanka United National party and Sri Lanka Freedom were driven by the usual political slogans and the tactic of critiquing each other. This was worsened when Sri Lankan president began to critique his own PrimeMinister Ranil Wickrmaisnghe and his government for not investigating the alleged corruption charges on various persons of former president Mahinda Rajapakshe’s regime including his family members. Ironically none of the charges have been proven by law thus far and which has given a sense of resentment to the masses in rural heartland of Sri Lanka where former president is regarded as an icon. More importantly the government’s lethargic or rather stagnant concern over the economic development in Sri Lanka has palpably caused a detrimental impact on the unexpected comeback of Mahinda Rajapakshes’s newly formed party against all odds. Months before the election a rally in favor of Mahinda Rajapakshe was held in Colombo with a massive mass support and in the same time joint opposition in parliament led by Dinesh Goonawardane galvanized the organizational factors to set the ground for the victory of “People’s Front” in a heavy margin. In examining the election results it’s a salient factor that still former president Mahinda Rajapakshe upholds his tremendous popularity in the Southern part of the island mainly among the Sinhalese masses in the rural areas. Rajapakshe’s newly established party “People’sFront “emerged victorious with 44.69% overall average and secured the power of 249 local governing bodies out of 340. Current Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe’s United National Party obtained 32.61 % average after upholding the power of 42 local governing bodies. Interestingly the party led by current Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena envisaged a crushing defeat. Above all former president Mahinda Rajapakshe is not the  leader or even  a member of this newly established political party Sri Lanka people’s Front albeit his open support to it in contesting in the local election 2018 and his charismatic public façade is the most obvious reason behind the ground breaking success of the party.

The results of the local election held in Sri Lanka has demonstrated how rapidly political trajectory of the island can be changed. Especially the coalition government in Sri Lanka mainly consisted of United National Party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party hasnot been able to address the fundamental social economic issues of the island though it has been three years since they came into power. Stagnation of Economy and high inflation rate of Sri Lanka seem to have agitated the public opinion against the coalition government. Besides those given factors Prime Minister’s reputation was marred by infamous Central Bank bond scandal and Prime Minister has been accused to safe guarding the former Central Bank Governor of Sri Lanka Arjun Mahendran despite knowing his involvement in the biggest financial scam in Sri Lanka since its independence.

However this stunning victory of former President Mahinda Rajapakshe’s party cannot be entirely regarded as an overwhelming change in Sri Lankan politics though it has created some uncertainties in island’s political sphere. Especially the Strong Indian and Western support to the present government have been a known factor since the day President Maitripla Sirisena decided to run for presidential election in 2015 as the common candidate of the opposition against powerful Mahinda Rajapakshe. Even after the defeat of the presidential election in 2015 Mahinda Rajapakshe claimed that his defeat was planned by RAW agents in Colombo though New Delhi had denied such charges. As a matter of fact it is certain that New Delhi shows a keen interest in defending the current government of Sri Lanka as a strategy to prevent Chinese presence in the island from growing stronger and reemergence of Rajapakshe’s power appears to be a setback to uphold Indian interest in Sri Lanka. In this context New Delhi will undoubtedly play its role in every possible way of succoring the co government in Sri Lanka. In fact this was evident when Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Tarajit Singh met both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickramasinghe separately and left for New Delhi on the same day to meet Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale.

It seems unlikely that sudden rise of Rajapakshe would continue to topple the existing government amidst its abrupt victory in island’s politics. Mainly the Tamil, Muslim and even Christian minorities in Sri Lanka have moved away from former president due to his more pro Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalistic image and this is purely visible by looking at the electorates won by Sri Lanka People’s Front as they are largely dominated by Sinhalese Buddhist votes. Nevertheless the external supportive factors upon the government in Sri Lanka from India and West may play a pivotal role in next few months in terms of securing the grip of power in the parliament, but the outcome of local election in Sri Lanka has created a political storm in the island and it is still early to predict how fervently it would change the key political actors in the island.

Punsara Amarasinghe is a Doctoral Candidate in International Law at National Research University, Higher School of Economics. He studied University of Colombo, Faculty of Law and South Asian University, New Delhi. He can be reached at punsaraprint10@gmail.com.

Eshan Jayawardane is a guest lecturer at Open University of Sri Lanka. He studied Sociology at Delhi University and holds MA in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He can be reached at eshan.jayawardena@gmail.com.

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One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Victory of new political parties and politicians is always positive for the nation. It gives the mainstream parties stiff competition. But, the party should work with sincerity to sustain peoples confidence