Editorial Notes

Rajapaksa family to steer Sri Lanka's relations with India: The Statesman

In its editorial, the paper says that Mahinda Rajapaksa's election in 2015 had raised hopes of reform and change, but there is uncertainty now on whether the reforms will be enduring.

Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (right) and his Prime Minister brother Mahinda Rajapaksa sit together after the ministerial swearing-in ceremony in Colombo on Nov 22, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (THE STATESMAN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Pending the snap elections in Sri Lanka pledged by President Gotabaya on Friday (Nov 22) in the immediate aftermath of his election, the Rajapaksa family has entrenched its authority further in the island nation with the appointment of the new President's elder brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as the born-again Prime Minister.

The message was more than obvious to the outgoing Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, lost the presidential poll.

In any event, he had put in his papers long before the first vote was cast in the parliamentary election, which is normally scheduled towards the end of 2020.

The appointment of a new PM - as much as the resignation - precludes a dichotomy in governance.

The Rajapaksa family will now be at the helm of Sri Lanka, with the brothers together steering domestic governance and foreign policy, and most importantly relations with India.

India's Foreign Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar's visit to Sri Lanka, therefore, assumes special significance.

He will be the first delegate to whom President Gotabaya and Prime Minister Rajapaksa will play host.

The 19th amendment of the Constitution, that was introduced in 2015, envisages that the President can dissolve Parliament six months before the end of its term, at any rate after March.

The fortunes of the political class are now riveted to PM Mahinda, whose acumen and gravitas undoubtedly contributed to his brother's victory and entry to the presidential palace.

However, there will be misgivings over the rule of a family.

Mahinda Rajapaksa's election in 2015 had raised hopes of reform and change. The 19th amendment had curbed the President's powers, most importantly the power to dismiss the Prime Minister and his cabinet. It had also set a two-term limit on contesting for President.

The overwhelming uncertainty now is whether the reforms will be enduring not the least because of a family at the helm. That uncertainty will deepen if any attempt is now made to turn the clock back.

The uncertainty stems with Mahinda Rajapaksa's latest cavil over what he calls "complications" in governance in the context of the amendment.

As the head of government, he has even pledged a "programme of action". Arguably, the loser will be the Tamils, more so because the Buddhist-Sinhala vote has been a major factor in the recent presidential election.

A not dissimilar determinant is bound to influence the parliamentary election as well.

It devolves on the new dispensation in Colombo to buttress the cause of national reconciliation, embedded in equality and justice.

Let turmoil and bloodshed, once masterminded by President Gotabaya, be a closed chapter.

This is expected to be the message that India's external affairs minister will convey.

The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.

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