Home Russia & China China Sri Lanka’s political crisis: The choice between India and China

Sri Lanka’s political crisis: The choice between India and China

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The Sri Lankan Parliament has won a no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the man who brought the 26-year long civil war to end in 2009. Rajapaksa who was appointed as the Prime Minister via a Presidential Order last month has protested the vote as constitutional as the matter is subjudice.

An air of ambiguity prevails in Sri Lanka as the functional government is incoherent after the decision of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena to sack Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, both of which had joined hands to defeat the same Mahinda Rajapaksa back in 2015.

The allegations from the ousted Prime Minister Wickremesinghe that China is buying the influence from the MPs to win the no-confidence vote strengthened the notion.

The decision to oust the sitting Prime Minister was contested as unconstitutional by a member of Sri Lankan parliament as well as from factions of media and civil society in Sri Lanka. Following the crisis, President Wickremesinghe decided to sack the entire parliament and announced new elections soon.

However, the matter was taken to the Sri Lankan Supreme Court which accepted the petitions to check the legality and authority of President whether it allows him the go for such an extreme measure according to the Sri Lankan constitution. MPs who support Rajapaksa have stated that the no-confidence vote has no legal value as the matter is already subjudice.

India – The cause of Political Crisis

The cracks in the coalition which led to the defeat of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015 started to appear last month over a decision which would have given a port on lease to India. Sri Lanka because of its geo-strategic location has significant importance for the maritime security of both India and China. Since India and China have a regional rivalry and a contest of flexing the influence to the neighboring nation, same remains true when it comes to the Sri Lankan politics.

Read more: India and China nervous spectators in Sri Lanka crisis

China has managed to acquire the crucial Hambantota port, under Belt and Road Initiative, last year after which the nuclear submarines were reportedly seen at the port triggering protest from the Indian side. Negotiated during the tenure of Rajapaksa as President, the repayments for the port are said to have pushed Sri Lanka into a debt-trap.

According to unofficial estimates, approximately $12.3 billion of the $14.8 billion that Hambantota would generate in revenues in 2018 is set to go in debt-repayment. That, however, doesn’t negate the strategic and military significance of the port to China, with Sri Lankan officials claiming in private to Western journalists that strategic calculus featured prominently during the negotiation process for the port.

The tension in the country is high as security units are put on high alert. A country which has managed to breathe out of the internal security chaos has been subjected to a political crisis in a matter of years.

As per the reports, the ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was in favor of balancing the equation by leasing out a port to India. But the Chinese influence, and also the liability in the form of massive debt service which Sri Lanka took under former President Rajapaksa, led to the strong repulse against the decision, eventually leading to his removal from the office.

The man China wants and India doesn’t – Mahinda Rajapaksa

It came as a surprise for many when President Sirisena announced the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as the successor of his former ally Wickremesinghe. India adhered to keeping the democratic principles supreme in the matter of government which indirectly singled out the sacking of India prone Prime Minister as the unconstitutional and undemocratic step.

Read more: Sri Lanka: Fear and Chaos

On the other hand, China, which has always held a soft corner for Rajapaksa, sent its ambassador to greet him for assuming the premiership. With him back in power, Sir Lanka has once again provided itself to be another battleground for both regional powers, India and China, to pull the strings to gain the upper hand.

The allegations from the ousted Prime Minister Wickremesinghe that China is buying the influence from the MPs to win the no-confidence vote strengthened the notion. But contrary to his claims, it was Wickremesinghe who turned out to be the beneficiary of the vote at the end of the day. It can be deduced that efforts from both India and China are in play to sway the political support of the Island nation toward their side for the long-term strategic objectives.

Read more: China woos Bhutan, to India’s displeasure

The tension in the country is high as security units are put on high alert. A country which has managed to breathe out of the internal security chaos has been subjected to a political crisis in a matter of years. While there is hope that the debacle would soon be over, the active involvement of India and China would certainly make the matter worse.


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