The latest edition of The World This Week covers: Sri Lanka’s election brings Mahinda Rajapaksa back, while India and Pakistan respond differently to J&K | Contributors to this edition are: Chrishari de Alwis Gunasekare & D Suba Chandran
Sri Lanka General Election 2020: Mahinda Rajapaksa returns with a majority
On 7 August, the final results of the 16th Parliamentary Election of Sri Lanka were announced. The election to the Parliament witnessed a sweeping victory for the SLPP led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, securing the majority of 59 per cent of votes and 145 seats in the Parliament.
Despite the polls taking place amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, the voter turnout registered as high as 71 per cent and closed without any notable incidents of violence.
What is the background?
First, the election result was expected on similar lines. The SLPP managed to secure the win and is set to form a new government with 128 seats secured from the elections and another 17 seats from the National List, accounting for 145 members elected to the Parliament in total. This number falls five seats short of the required 150 seats needed to gain the two-thirds majority, but several elected candidates from the parties EPDP, TMVP and SLFP have already expressed their interest in aligning with SLPP to complete requirement. The SLPP, which is a relatively new party in the Sri Lankan political stage, was able to secure this victory due to the efficient leadership of the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose capable handling of the pandemic was highly commended. The votes from the Sinhala majority indicate that the President has inspired the public faith that he would be able to lessen the economic burden and lead the country towards prosperity.
Second, the weak Opposition. The newly formed Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) led by Sajith Premadasa secured nearly 24 per cent of the votes with 54 seats. The JVP reform Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) managed to hold onto the expected 3 per cent of votes with three seats in the Parliament. The Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) that contested under the banner of TNA secured ten seats with votes from North and North East.
In a not so unexpected upset, the candidates of the United National Party (UNP) that were a part of the government after the previous elections, managed to win only one seat in the Parliament through the National List amounting to only 2.15 per cent of the votes cast. The UNP leader and former PM Ranil Wickremesinghe was unable to secure his own seat from the Colombo electorate, making it the first time that he has not been a member of the Parliament since 1977 as it is highly doubtful that he would take up the slot gained through the National List. Similarly, the SLFP who shared the government with the UNP earlier only secured a single seat from the Jaffna marking the end of two of the most prestigious political parties in the country. The cause for this sound defeat can be attributed to the previous government’s failure to prevent the Easter Attack last year and the political instability that marked their rule damaging the citizen’s trust in both parties.
What does it mean?
The SLPP huge win would inevitably see the repeal of the 19th Amendment shortly with the Rajapaksas consolidating power and being at the helm Sri Lanka. The President will be quick to carry out his manifesto “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor” with the support of his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa sworn in as the Prime Minister.
With the UNP absent, the SJB will have to step up to the role of the Opposition, acting as the only check for the Rajapaksas power. The politics of Sri Lanka is headed for a new direction as more than 60 Parliamentarians are freshly elected with limited female and minority representation.
India, Pakistan and J&K: Kashmir increases the Indo-Pak divide
5 August 2020 marked one year of India making constitutional and administrative changes to the erstwhile J&K State. While India kept a low profile of the date and treated it as an internal issue, Pakistan made the same into a national and international issue. Within J&K, there was a remarkable difference in how the two regions – Jammu and Kashmir saw the last one year.
India, officially, kept a low profile on the date. It has made a change at the leadership level, by replacing the first Lieutenant General of J&K Union Territory (a bureaucrat), with a new one (a political leader belonging to the ruling BJP). There were a few editorials and analyses in the media. Inside J&K, New Delhi imposed security restrictions especially in the Kashmir Valley, to prevent any protests on 5 August.
Pakistan observed 5 August as “Youm-e-Istehsal” (Day of exploitation). There was a Kashmir frenzy on 4 August and 5 August. The Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan made a statement, “the Almighty is passing the Kashmiris through a phase that will end up in their freedom.” Pakistan issued a new postal stamp highlighting its support to the Kashmiris and named a new highway after Kashmir. Pakistan’s foreign minister made a harsh statement on the OIC asking the latter to convene a meeting on Kashmir. Through China, Pakistan also attempted to initiate a debate in the UN Security Council. Importantly, Pakistan also issued a new map of the country. According to Pakistan, the new map “is a political map as opposed to the administrative map.”
The people of J&K responded differently. The Kashmiris in the Valley marked it as a “black day” with their leaders either placed under detention, or not allowed to engage in political activities, and serious restrictions on connectivity, especially the internet. On the other hand, the people in the Jammu region was seen celebrating 5 August as the first anniversary.
What is the background?
India sees J&K as an internal issue. The government of India, cutting across political parties, have pursued J&K as a domestic issue. The Indian State sees Pakistan as a revisionist power and expects the international community to prevent Pakistan from intervening in India’s internal matter politically and through sponsoring terrorism and fueling unrest. The BJP government not only have reorganized the administrative map of J&K but also stopped the bilateral dialogue process between the two countries.
The BJP government wants to pursue a muscular policy towards J&K and resolve the issue by removing the special status of the State and completely integrating with the rest of India. The removal of constitutional provisions (Article 370 and 35-A) was a part of this pursuit. The BJP government feels Pakistan has no locus standi in J&K.
Pakistan sees J&K as an international issue. For Islamabad, it is an unfinished agenda of the Indo-Pak partition at the bilateral level. At the international level, Pakistan wants an intervention by the United Nations, fulfil the earlier resolutions. It wants the international community to intervene in J&K and pressurize India to talk to Pakistan on Kashmir. Pakistan also wants the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) in which it is a member, to make a strong political statement, if not take action against India.
Pakistan fears that the BJP’s muscular policy towards Kashmir would make Islamabad irrelevant. The bigger fear is that Kashmir would become irrelevant and an unimportant issue for the international community, as India’s political clout at the international level is growing.
The international community is reluctant to intervene. While there have been reports by non-governmental organizations and civil society initiatives on J&K, there has been a low profile response at the official level. Neither the UN Security Council nor the OIC, nor the EU has made any substantial reference on J&K.
What does it mean?
Within South Asia, Pakistan will continue its political offensive on J&K. The map, stamp, highway, resolutions in legislative assemblies (provincial and national), conferences and full-page advertisements in the media is hardening Pakistan’s position towards India and on J&K. Internationally, Pakistan would lean more towards China – politically and militarily, to gather support on J&K.
Pakistan’s political offensive is likely to harden the Indian public position on the former, and also on bilateral dialogue. With the Indian government already having a hardened stance to restart the dialogue process, the above would only strengthen its position on Pakistan and resetting Indo-Pak relations.
The international community will remain a spectator. It would neither yield to the pressure from Pakistan to do more on India nor would it intervene and pressurize India to do more either on J&K or on Indo-Pak relations. It would pursue J&K as a bilateral issue. Except for China.
J&K would remain an internal issue for India. Unless the political detentions come to an end leading to a political process, and the communications restored, Kashmir Valley would remain suffocated. On the other hand, the Jammu region will find more breathing space politically and psychologically. This would also increase the divide between the two regions within J&K.
Also, in the news…
Trump bans TikTok and WeChat
On 6 August 2020, President Trump, through two executive orders, banned two social media applications – TikTok and WeChat in the US on security concerns. This would mean, these two Chinese based applications cannot be used within the US. Politically, this would also mean the expanding divide between the US and China. The order is likely to take place in 45 days.
Outside the ban, Microsoft has been reported to be in a negotiation to buy the TikTok operations in the US, besides in a few other countries, including Canada and Australia.
With new tariffs, Trump restarts the US-Canada Aluminium War
On 6 August 2020, Trump also imposed a ten per cent tariff on Canadian aluminium imports. Trump’s new restrictions come into effect one month later a new deal went into effect between the US, Canada and Mexico in July 2020. A day later, on 7 August, Canada responded with retaliatory tariffs worth USD 2.7 billion on the US aluminium.
In May 2018, Trump pursued a similar strategy on aluminium (and steel) against the EU, Canada and Mexico, to strengthen the US industry internally. Subsequent negotiations resulted in the US and Canada resolving the issue one year later in May 2019, when the tariff on aluminium and steel was revoked.
A deadly explosion in Beirut kills more than 150 and ignites political protests in Lebanon
On 4 August 2020, a massive explosion of Ammonium Nitrate in a warehouse in the port in Beirut ended up killing more than 150 people. According to available reports, 2750 tonnes of explosives was kept in the docks of Beirut, after a ship bounded to Georgia abandoned the same. Already facing an economic crisis, the problem of governance, and a series of protests and the first two, the explosion has only further added fuel to an existing fire. On 8 August 2020, thousands of protestors came to the streets of Beirut demanding accountability. Government buildings were targeted and destroyed by the angry crowd. There were violent clashes between the protestors and the security forces.
Lebanon has a new Prime Minister (Hassan Diab) since January 2020, after the street protests last year forced the previous PM Saad Hariri to resign. The new Prime Minister is facing a huge task of structural challenges of the economy, bad governance, corruption and the COVID fallouts.
Brazil crosses 100,000 COVID deaths, with Latin America being the global hotspot
Brazil would be the second country to cross the 100,000 figure in terms of COVID deaths after the US. According to a WSJ data, Latin America now has 30 per cent of the global total with 206,000 deaths, and Brazil accounting for half of the region’s casualties. Mexico, Peru and Colombia have 50,000 plus, 20,000 plus and 10,000 plus casualties so far. Chile’s figures are nearing 10,000.
Brazil’s high rate of casualties is blamed on leadership failure, especially President Bolsonaro. During the early phase, he undermined the efforts to take preventive measures, calling COVID as another flu. Today, urban and rural Brazil is paying the price for the failure of leadership.
75 years after the nuclear bombing: World remembers Hiroshima
6 August 2020 marked 75 years of one of the worst man-made tragedies. On 6 August 2020, the US dropped the first nuclear bomb over Hiroshima, and a few days later on 9 August, it dropped another bomb on Nagasaki. The two bombs were dropped to force Japan to surrender in the World War-II. Japan did surrender two weeks later, but the cost was colossal.
Across the world, the day was observed, more at the civil societies level, than at the governmental level. Since 1945, today there are more countries with nuclear weapons and an unstable nuclear regime.