Asia Minute: Political Uncertainty in Sri Lanka

Nov 2, 2018

President Maithripala Sirisena
Credit Maithripala Sirisena / Flickr

Mid-term elections in the United States are just a few days away. But the political situation in a small country in the Indo-Asia Pacific is more dramatic. Sri Lanka has been in a leadership crisis for a week, and the situation is moving towards a climax next week.

A week ago Sri Lanka’s president fired the prime minister — along with the entire cabinet.

President Maithripala Sirisena told reporters at the time that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and another member of the cabinet were planning a presidential assassination.

Wickremesinghe denies that.

He also refuses to step down, the BBC reports he’s still living in the Prime Minister’s official residence. And he says the president doesn’t even have the authority to fire the prime minister — that would be up to parliament.

The president suspended parliament when he fired the prime minister.

The president and the prime minister have been in a fragile political coalition for the past three years. But recently, the two men have diverged on the economy and a number of other issues.

Just to complicate the politics, the man the president named as the new prime minister is himself a former leader of the country. His name is Mahinda Rajapakasa, and his legacy is complicated.

Former Foreign Secretary William Hague meeting Ranil Wickremesinghe, Leader of the United National Party, Sri Lanka in London, 21 October 2010.
Credit Foreign and Commonwealth Office / Flickr

He helped end the country’s 26-year civil war and came to power in 2009. But he’s accused of corruption and human rights abuses — especially in the closing months of that war against Tamil rebels.

As for what comes next for the country’s leadership, that will be up to Sri Lanka’s parliament. Lawmakers are scheduled to meet to talk about their options on Monday.