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Srilankan political crisis keeps the world guessing

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Mahinda Rajapaksa being sworn in as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka

Mahinda Rajapaksa being sworn in as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka : Courtesy : Al Jazeera

  • Overthrowing of Ranil Wickremesinghe is the victory of Chinese intelligence

By J K Verma. 02 November 2018. On October 26, President Maithripala  Sirisena, on behest of the powerful Chinese intelligence agency, Ministry of State Security (MSS) had overthrown the lawfully elected Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of Sri Lanka.

President Sirisena created chaos in the country by deposing Wickremesinghe and allowed Mahinda Rajapaksa to swear as prime minister. Colombo is passing through a grave economic crisis and now it will also engulf in political turmoil. Hence its dependence on China will enhance manifold. China is one of the few countries who congratulated Rajapaksa to become the prime minister.

Sirisena issued two gazette notices. In the first gazette he removed Wickremesinghe and through another gazette notification appointed Rajapaksa as the new prime minister. He also sacked Saman Ekanayake the secretary of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

Rajapaksa who is close to China, remained the President of Sri Lanka, from November 2005 to January 2015. During his regime, Rajapaksa helped China and gave several important infrastructural projects to Chinese companies and ignored India. The Sri Lankan watchers claim that now China will get more projects and under the garb of assisting Colombo the debt of Beijing would increase which will be detrimental for Sri Lanka.

President Maithripala Sirisena

President Maithripala Sirisena : The King Maker: www.vocfm.co.za

The popularity of Sirisena was diminishing very fast hence he wanted to regain the support through Chinese favourite Rajapaksa. The analysts’ mention that Sirisena won presidential election with the help of Wickremesinghe and now strengthening him with the assistance of his arch rival Rajapaksa.

Sirisena was able to defeat Rajapaksa in presidential election of 2015 because of the assistance rendered by Ranil Wickremesinghe but the relations between president and prime minister became tense earlier than expected. Recently in a cabinet meeting both president and prime minister fought on leasing of a container terminal, as Wickremesinghe wanted it to lease to India while Sirisena opposed the move. President also claimed that Sri Lankan government lost $65 million because of Wickremesinghe’s supported sale of central bank bonds. Besides it both president and prime minister had different economic policy.

Sirisena also planned to impeach Wickremesinghe, not only this he went back on the pledge not to contest re-election. Wickremesinghe has also plans to contest presidential election in near future; hence he had not liked the withdrawal of Sirisena from his earlier commitment. Sirisena also criticised Wickremesinghe government.

Deposed PrimeMinister of Srilanka Ranil Wickremesinghe

Deposed PrimeMinister of Srilanka Ranil Wickremesinghe : Courtesy : Al Jazeera

Sirisena was aware that the deposed Prime Minister has still majority support in the Parliament, hence he suspended the parliament until 16 November, so that Rajapaksa and his party get ample time to win law-makers in their favour. The suspension of parliament has also barred supporters of Wickremesinghe to pass a no-confidence motion against the new prime minister. In the meantime Rauff Hakeem an important leader of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Mano Ganeshan, Palani Digambaram and Rishath Bathiyutheen of minority Tamil and Muslim parties issued statements that they and their parties support Wickremesinghe and his sacking by president Sirisena is illegitimate and unconstitutional.

Rajapaksa under his rule eliminated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and killed large number of Tamils including LTTE President Velpillai Prabhakaran. The human right organisations condemned Rajapaksa’s tenure as there was widespread oppression of opponents, extrajudicial killings including several cases of forced disappearances and blatant repression of freedom of speech.

Minister of Finance and Mass Media Mangala Samaraweera termed it as “ an anti democratic coup” while Wickremesinghe mentioned that the move of  Sirisena is unconstitutional and claimed that he continue to be the  prime minister of the country. Sirisena may go for a snap poll and as Rajapaksa purged LTTE, he is admired by majority Sinhala Buddhists and may win the elections. The U.S. department of State has also advised Sri Lankan president to reconvene the parliament.

Sri Lanka's newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa

Sri Lanka’s newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa gestures during a ceremony to assume duties at the prime minister’s office in Colombo on October 29, 2018. Courtesy : AFP

The MSS pressed Rajapaksa and Sirisena to create political instability in the country, although it was passing through a deep economic crisis. The foreign exchange reserves of the country have dwindled and the Sri Lankan rupees is in distress, tourism which is the mainstay of the country will suffer because of political muddle. The confidence of foreign investors would also shake because of political uncertainty and it will provide more avenues to Chinese companies which will exploit the situation. If Colombo fails to control the economic situation, it will be difficult for the country to refinance the foreign debt which is due in early 2019.

In view of economic crisis Colombo has very few options and as Rajapaksa is close to China, he will further move towards Beijing, which will enhance its investments but certainly on stringent terms. Colombo has to accept Chinese investments on irrational stipulations and when it will fail to repay the loan China will occupy the strategic assets of the country including Hambantota port. Although Rajapaksa is pro-Chinese and will render undue favours to Beijing but in near future he will not work against the interests of India and Japan as they are also the important players in the country.

President Sirisena also alleged that there is a danger to his life and a cabinet minister is behind the plot to assassinate him. However the supporters of Wickremesinghe mentioned that Sirisena is doing it to gain the public sympathy and there is no truth in the allegation. The followers of Wickremesinghe protested against the allegation as well as about his sacking. Sirisena further alleged that because of the involvement of cabinet minister, security agencies have not investigated the case properly. They also mention that the public had voted for Wickremesinghe and Sirisena acted against the will of the masses.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya also criticised the move of Sirisena and mentioned that parliament should be convened urgently and let the members of Parliament decide about the prime minister. There are several corruption cases against Rajapaksa and his family. Besides corruption cases there are also charges pertaining to the murders of journalists during his rule. The masses of Sri Lanka voted to The United National Party and Wickremesinghe as they promised to investigate the mayhem committed against Tamils during the regime of Rajapaksa. The supporters of both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe are gathered in Colombo which may create a grave law and order situation.

Xi Jinping Meets with President Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka

Xi Jinping Meets with President Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka (File Picture) Courtesy : www.fmprc.gov.cn

The analysts claim that the Chinese Intelligence agency recently lost Maldives to India when the tin-pot dictator Abdullah Yameen abdul Gayoom lost Presidential elections to Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in September 2018. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs welcomed the victory of Solih and termed it as the victory of “democratic forces”. Yameen was acting as a dictator and an agent of China. He was harming Indian interests and was radicalising the archipelago nation which consists of 1190 tiny islands across the Indian Ocean. Several Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia was assisting Maldives, which enhanced Islamic extremism in the country up to the extent that large number of Maldivian youths went to Iraq and Syria and joined the Islamic State. China has already constructed a Joint Observation Station in Makunudhoo, where submarines can be lodged. China can keep watch on important sea routes and on South China Sea from this Observation Post. The newly elected president has already promised to review all the contracts awarded by the previous government. India expects that the newly elected president will do justice with Indian interests. The analysts claim that it will be difficult for the new government to mitigate the influence of China as it is involved in most of the major projects and Maldives has to repay more than $ 90 million dollars every year to Beijing.


Narendra Modi meeting Maithripala Sirisena (File Picture) Courtesy : www.pib.nic.in

The Ministry of State Security (MSS) has a powerful spy network and is responsible for counter-intelligence, political security and foreign intelligence. The MSS main tasks include internal security, collection of intelligence pertaining to Taiwan, USA, Japan and India. However as the global ambition of China is increasing rapidly the MSS is also involved in overthrowing the unfavourable regimes and also inculcate resources so that in hour of need the governments of the strategically important countries can be turned in the favour of China. The intelligence sources claim that as Wickremesinghe was favouring India hence MSS instigated Rajapaksa to align with Sirisena to oust Wickremesinghe.

The experts mention that China uprooted Wickremesinghe unconstitutionally while Yameen lost presidential elections legally and it is the difference between the functioning of a democratic government and a communist regime.

 

Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and a retired senior intelligence officer. He is also member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at editor.adu@gmail.com

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