The fractious and ungainly political convulsion in Sri Lanka over the past week has brought focus on its prime minister and, by extension, on the fate of his cabinet. But, in reality, the three key dramatis personae—President Maithripala Sirisena, ousted PM Ranil Wickremesinghe and newly appointed premier Mahinda Rajapaksa—are all jostling for a vantage position for the next presidential elections.
Presidential polls are due in early January 2020, but the process for selection of candidates and ensuring their support among MPs will be set in motion from next year and crystallise by end 2019.
Since 1978 Sri Lanka has an executive presidency. Several amendments to the constitution over the years have tackled presidential powers. The 19th amendment, in particular, was brought in by an overwhelming parliamentary majority in 2015, reduced the presidential term from six to five years and brought other limitations to his powers. But the Lankan president continues to wield clout on important issues pertaining to the country’s stability, security and all-round progress.
Despite increasing strains in their relations, Sirisena’s decision to sack Wickremesinghe and appoint Rajapaksa in his place surprised many. The Indian leadership, in particular, was taken aback as it hosted Wickremesinghe in New Delhi barely a week before his dismissal. South Block officials thought the failure to pass the budget, with Sirisena withdrawing support of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party MPs from the government, could have led to Wickremesinghe’s ouster.
Observers believe the uncertainty over the contender for the 2019 presidential election to be the nub of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe rift....