Sri Lanka Elections: Issues, Actors and Challenges

IPRI Discussion Report | By Chrishari de Alwis Gunasekare

The SLPP expected to secure a decisive win
The party led by the RajapaksasNIAS will dominate the elections. The public sentiment lies strongly in favour of the Rajapaksa rule as they have displayed their capability in managing the crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. This is further strengthened by the Sinhala majority voters of the country who are looking forward to a period of political stability which they hope the Rajapaksas will deliver. Even if the SLPP is unable to secure the required two-thirds majority, they will secure the number of seats through alliances and crossovers within the next few months. In due course, the SLPP win will mean a consolidation of power alongside the repeal of the 19th Amendment that will lean towards a more majoritarian and securitized state exercising a ‘harsh democracy’ under the Rajapaksa regime.

The Opposition will remain weak
The leading opposition parties – UNP and SJB are weak today; neither of them will be able to secure a lead in the upcoming elections as the factions and in-fighting within the parties will influence the voter’s choices. Besides, the precarious position of the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is important; he has been unable to secure a significant electoral victory in the recent past. Hence, the expectation is that with the SLPP win, Wickremesinghe might consider an alliance with the Rajapaksas if the Premedasa led SJB manages to secure the second-highest number of seats in the Parliament. The SLFP which had been a leading party in the past is expected to be formally merged into the SLPP after the elections. The JVP is also in decline due to relatively young leadership and an identity crisis within the party. However, a revival of JVP might be possible if prompted by an economic crisis in the future.

The issue of minority representation will remain a challenge
The TNA is expected to secure the Northern and North Eastern electorate. The indecisiveness and ineffectiveness of the TNA leadership have damaged the interests of the representation of the Sri Lankan Tamils in the Parliament and claimed that the Tamil votes are secured more on sentimental attachment than by choice.

The Muslim representative parties have had little to no representation in this election as the Easter Attack had dealt a major blow to the reputation of the Muslim political leaders. Hence, the Muslim parties are also expected to align with the newly formed government to secure the interests of their community. However, a point underscored by both speakers was that when the SLPP consolidates power, the minority-majority division will inevitably widen and that it is doubtful that the current ethnic conflicts will be addressed or resolved.

Elections and Economy
The Sri Lankan economy will be impacted in the aftermath of the elections. The dearth of tourism in the face of the Easter Attack and the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the burden of debt had strained the Sri Lankan economy to the breaking point; this is one of the most pressing concerns that the newly appointed Parliament will have to tackle to maintain stability within the country.

External relations of Sri Lanka post elections
There is an anxiety in India regarding the Rajapaksa led SLPP win and the India-China tensions. This outcome is inevitable. However, this sentiment should not be particular to the Rajapaksa family but rather to the State as a whole for Sri Lanka will strengthen ties that can provide leverage against the UNHRC resolution on war crimes that will be up for debate shortly as well as providing support in terms of development.

India as neighbours should not be overly disturbed with the growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, but rather be ‘objective but mindful’ observers.

To conclude, the SLPP would secure the victory. Secondly, the presence of the opposition in Sri Lanka has weakened both within and without the Parliament. Finally, the minority representation in Sri Lanka is now in troubled waters with a Sinhala majority party in power.


The author is a postgraduate scholar from the South Asian Studies, UMISARC, Pondicherry University.


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