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Sri Lanka: Is Gota Next to Go After Mahinda?

The dice seem to be now set for the exit of the Rajapaksa family from power in Sri Lanka. First of the two stalwarts – Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on May 09. The writing was on the wall. However, the doughty political fighter that he is with decades of experience, Mahinda was not likely to throw in the towel so quickly and he did not.

After a week’s speculation of his resignation, the final straw was attacks by his supporters on the peaceful protestors in Galle Face who had been raising their voices for the exit of the Rajapaksa family - Gota-go-Gama.

Bloody clashes followed, which subsumed even a member of the parliament of the ruling and saw the ancestral house of the Rajapaksa in Medamulana in Hambantota go up in flames.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), Amarakeerthi Athukorala parliamentarian, was found dead along with his driver and bodyguard. He had confronted a crowd when he was travelling in the hinterland.

A curfew has been imposed in the Island, whereas an Emergency has been in place since May 6. Defence forces personnel were requisitioned to assist the police in containing law and order at the Galle Face and adjacent areas in order to maintain security and ensure public safety.

Defense Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne earnestly requested the general public to support the tri forces, remain calm, and exercise restraint per the Colombo Page.

Political Proposals

The resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa paves the way for his younger brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to form a national government.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has requested the Leader of the Opposition and Samagi Jana Balawegaya Sajith Premadasa to assume the post of Prime Minister.

Opposition parties in turn have submitted no-confidence motions against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government for mishandling the country's worst economic crisis.

A date for vote of the no-confidence motions is not announced. The next date for the parliament sitting is on May 17.

However, the voting pattern for the post of Deputy Speaker shows that the opposition lacks the numbers. The no-confidence motion may even strengthen the hands of President Rajapaksa to stay in power in the country with parliament backing. This was evident with the re-election of Kegalle District Parliamentarian Ranjith Siyambalapitiya as the new Deputy Speaker of Parliament on May 05.

In a secret ballot in parliament, 148 voted in favor of Ranjith Siyambalapitiya and 65 votes were cast in favor of Imtiaz Bakeer Markar, the opposition candidate. With the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa dissidence in the SLPP may also taper off thus providing more significant support for the President to continue to stay in power.

India in a Tight Spot

India has recently expanded relations with the Rajapaksa brothers. On the humanitarian front, India has led the way in the provision of lines of credit, transferring hundreds of barrels of oil and providing rice and other staples.

However, the rumour mills floated by the anti India lobby in Lanka have gone out of the way to tarnish New Delhi. There were reports of India providing water cannons to Sri Lanka on the lines of credit which have been refuted by the High Commission of India to Sri Lanka. “These reports are factually incorrect. No water canon vehicles have been supplied by India under any of the credit lines extended by India to Sri Lanka,” the High Commission tweeted.

Under the concessional loan of USD 1 billion to the Government of Sri Lanka, through the State Bank of India, on March 17, 2022 operational and food items like rice, red chilies have been supplied.

What Next?

There are a number of proposals floated for recovery of the country from the brink. The most favoured one appears to be that of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) which has been accepted by the President as well as by the Prime Minister in making opposition leader Sajith Premadasa.

However before that the political situation has to be stabilized. For this a government that is acceptable to the people and not the parliament appears to be inevitable. The public has demanded that the President and the Prime Minister both Rajapaksa brothers should resign, the prime minister has by Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not.

Resignation of the President may not necessarily mean political stability but this will at least douse the anger in the public. Formation of a national unity government which would be more technocratic – with economic and financial experts and less political to streamline the economy would be necessary.

On the other hand, the public may be satisfied with the President continuing and the SJB leader as the prime minister remains to be seen? The first indicator of this will be calling of protests at the Galle Face amongst other areas in the country.

If demand on the streets for Gota to go home persists then the situation will normalize only if he leaves.

There are thus multiple options in Sri Lanka, none of which appear to suggest stability in the short term.


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