Sri Lanka’s future hangs in the balance

On Tuesday, the Sri Lankan parliament nominated three people from among its members to serve out the remainder of the presidential term of Gotabaya Rajapaksa who was forced to resign and fled the country in the dead of night. One is the current interim president Ranil Wickremesinghe (who ascended to that position because he had been appointed prime minister by the former disgraced president, and the prime minister takes over when the president resigns), the second is someone named Dullas Alahapperuma, and the third is a leftist candidate named Anura Kumara Dissanayake. The vote will be on Wednesday.

This outcome is somewhat bizarre. This is because while the mass protests have removed some of the top people in government, people who had been thought to be invulnerable, the parliament has remained unchanged and the members of parliament are the ones who will select the new president. While the Rajapaksa clan is in disgrace with the president Gotabaya and his three brothers and nephew forced to resign the presidency, prime ministership, and other cabinet posts, the two main challengers Wickremesinghe and Alahapperuma are both affiliated with their party. The third candidate Dissanayake’s party has only three members in parliament and so his chances of winning are slim.

The disgraced Rajapaksa clan’s party is the SLPP. Wickremesinghe is not a member of the SLPP but was nominated by the general secretary of the party. Wickremesinghe has long been viewed as a stooge of the Rajapaksas, so much so people have started referring to him derisively but tellingly as ‘Ranil Rajapaksa’. The leaders of the mass protest movement that brought down the Rajapaksa clan are adamant that Wickremesinghe is unacceptable because he is also viewed as corrupt and they want him gone. Since he has no mandate whatsoever, you would think that he would do the honorable thing and not stand for election in order to avoid another violent upheaval. But it is apparent that in his lust to remain in power, he does not care and seems to be seeking the presidency via back door shenanigans.

It is rumored that Basil Rajapaksa, who was the highly incompetent and reportedly extremely corrupt finance minister during his brother’s presidency, is manipulating behind the scenes to get Wickremesinghe elected as president so that he will shield the family from the repercussions they sorely deserve. There are rumors that Basil Rajapaksa is using part of the large sums of money he obtained as bribes to offer large bribes to MPs to support Wickremesinghe. Since the vote is by secret ballot, you would think that bribery may not be an effective strategy to win votes. But when the number of people voting is small, secrecy can be hard to maintain.

Basil Rajapaksa, who holds US citizenship, tried to leave the country along with his brother but was stopped when airport immigration officials refused to let him leave the country following protests by other passengers. and the courts have since ordered him and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa (who had been prime minister) and three officials including two former governors of the Central bank, not to leave until July 28th.

Alahapperuma is a member of the SLPP who is now considered a dissident but the chair of the SLPP and other members of the party are supporting him. The main opposition party has also thrown their support to him with its leader agreeing to serve as prime minister if he should be elected. Some of the many other smaller parties have still not weighed in on what they will do.

The winner will need 113 votes out of the the 225 members of parliament. The coalition led by the disgraced Rajapaksa clan’s party the SLPP won an overwhelming majority in parliament with 145 seats in the last election in 2020 and if they were united, they could select the next president. But the crisis fractured the party and the coalition and now the count is uncertain.

You can be sure that in the grand tradition of Sri Lankan politics, there will be wheeling and dealing right up to the vote, with principles playing very little role and personal ambitions and agendas (and of course bribes) paramount. This is exactly the kind of thing that has brought the country to ruin and disgusted so many people that they came out by their hundreds of thousands to protest.

So there we are. If Wickremesinghe does win, there is going to be trouble, a lot of trouble.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the repercussions they sore truly deserve.

    I dunno whether to call that a typo or an archaicism, but either way it needs cleaning up.

    Not so urgently as the Colombo government, but at least closer to hand.

    {Corrected. Thanks! Mano]

  2. John Morales says

    Sri Lanka desperately needs international aid.

    For quite some years now, it’s run a negative balance of trade, and more recently the ill-advised tax cuts, the political violence that cost tourism, the COVID pandemic, the ill-advised artificial fertiliser ban, and most recently Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have meant it has run out of options.
    So its currency is down and the global costs of what it needs to import just for people to live are up (a lot) — particularly food and energy. Can’t afford it.

    So for some time it’s basically been relying on “charity”, mainly from India and from China; thing is, this aid (mostly credit lines, though obvs they will never be repaid) will inevitably turn to quid pro quo — not that IMF aid would not.

    Political instability is the last thing Sri Lanka needs, but it’s what it has.
    Not likely to lead to more commitment than basic humanitarian aid from donors until that is resolved. Aid will surely come, but investment?

    And without investment, it won’t get out of this quagmire for generations.

    So the time for some serious change is now, and I reckon anyone even slightly informed would agree, but alas, the system and those within it are obviously not amenable.

    An unfortunate situation.

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