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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2403

Sri Lankan Political Crisis: will President Sirisena go for the nuclear option – in the end?

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

The rapidly evolving political situation in Sri Lanka, with its corresponding twists and turns, is slowly heading towards the precipice of multiple uncertainties – at a critical time, when we can least afford it.

On a bright note, it has, however, helped taking the nation’s mind off tragedies, traffic accidents, train derailments, strikes, agitations, oil price, the value of rupee against the US dollar, inflation, scandals and the fate of the spinner who just went into retirement from the Gentleman’s Game.

Moreover, the cumulative impact provided the punters with a buy signal across the computer screens in the stock market; it even rocketed defying economics.

The extraordinary political development that came out of the blue a few days ago, does defy conventional logic and wisdom; no political analyst could predict the event a few weeks ago, as it had a probability on a par with that of the White man, who ran across the cricket pitch in Galle in birthday suit, being charged with ball tampering by the ICC, the International Cricket Council.

In order to make political judgements at uncertain times, people, including myself, often tend to resorting to unusual, irrational things: they include odd things such as reading between the lines when statements are made, studying the body language and focusing on facial expressions, when the smile for the camera appears to be ranging from being heavily animated to outright fake and of course, looking through a crystal ball when the genie inside is relaxed and content.

Then, suddenly you realize that what you feel in your private heart is not private anymore; on the contrary, it, indeed, is universal. All you have to do is reading the comments of ordinary mortals that follow a news item and you realize you are not alone, when it comes to sensing the same!

For instance, I was looking at the pictures of President Rajapakse at Kiri Vehera in Tissamaharama while he was participating in a religious ceremony: he was extremely tense and did not seem to be at ease with himself or his supporters – a clear sign that the number game at that stage was not in his favour.

The way the appointments of ministerial posts or those of deputies were handed down by President Sirisena was a case in point too: with some, he was at ease and the smile appeared to be genuine; with the rest it was not the case.

Just before the turn of events, the government had been deeply unpopular with the masses owing to the fall of rupee, skyrocketing prices, and multiple economic uncertainties. There were clear signals that President Rajapakse could make a triumphant comeback.

Then, suddenly he accepted the post of the prime minister, perhaps, based on the assurance of certain people that the numbers were on his side and coming under pressure from those who were closer to him; he may have made the decision against his instincts.

As things did not turn out the way they had been assured, the catalogue of future events could potentially damage him unless he treads toxic, political mine field carefully in the coming few weeks.

President Rajapakse, however, has been handling the issue involving the Temple Trees, the official residence of the prime minister, in a noble way without humiliating or psychologically harming his beleaguered predecessor. As he admitted in a rally this week, he would not have sacked Mr Wickramasinghe, if he was the president.

Before the government was dismissed by President Sirisena, although, the UNP superficially functioned in a cohesive manner, the tentacles of factionalism never just remained in the periphery.

When Mr Wickramasinghe was cornered by circumstances, however, by a miracle, his political fortunes were rekindled and suddenly the party as a whole became stronger with the leader at the centre – and being in firm control; the rank and file mimicked the dust and ice particles under gravity before the Big Bang.

By referring to the fact that two potential leaders turned down his request to be the Prime Minister, President Sirisena inadvertently made Mr Wickremansinghe’s position even stronger by implying that back-stabbing is not part and parcel of the UNP. In short, it was a huge political boost for Mr Wickramasinghe, because the cross-over phenomenon came to an abrupt end with it.

As things stand right now, the stakes cannot be higher for the SLFP led by President Sirisena; the party has already being eclipsed by the SLPP and the revival of the old party is no easy task, especially in the absence of characters that have political gravitas. The party is facing a monumental struggle to stay relevant in contemporary Sri Lankan politics.

President Sirisena, meanwhile, does not seem to be prepared to voluntarily curtail his period in office due to unforeseen circumstances. On the contrary, he seems to be determined to see it through, come what may.

Two days ago, he said that he has more than one what he referred to as ‘Trump Cards’, a synonym for unpleasant, but effective options in political vocabulary. He has already shown two of them to the nation – sacking the prime minister and dissolving the parliament prematurely.

As the opposition parties are going to challenge his decision at the Supreme Court next week, everything appears to be hinging on the decision of the latter.

If the court decides that the decision by the president violates the constitution, he may be compelled to take up yet another ‘Trump Card’, which could only be guessed by a layman at this stage; it’s inconceivable that President Sirisena shares a cabinet with Mr Wickramasinghe again as there is significant bad blood between them.

In this context, I have to sniff the air in order to check whether President Sirisena will go for the nuclear option in the event of the decision of the Supreme Court not going his way – the prospect of declaring a state of emergency in order to postpone the elections for a longer period – when the constitution does not deprive a subject of his right for speculation.

- Asian Tribune -

Sri Lankan Political Crisis: will President Sirisena go for the nuclear option – in the end?
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