Event ReportsPublished on Jan 15, 2015
Prof. S.D. Muni, a Sri Lankan expert, says that it was unlikely that the 13th Amendment would be implemented, but the spirit of the amendment, i.e., accommodation, would play a much larger role relative to Rajapaksa's rule.
Indian experts surprised by the election result in Sri Lanka
The recent election of a new President in Sri Lanka could be a chance for significant internal changes, a shift in the orientation of the country towards foreign regimes and a chance at peace and reconciliation for Sri Lanka, said Dr. C. Raja Mohan, Head, Strategic Studies Programme of Observer Research Foundation.

He was chairing a discussion on the Sri Lankan election results and their implications for the region at ORF on January 15. He pointed out that the outcome of Colombo’s presidential elections came as a surprise to everyone.

Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Ashok Kumar Mehta, former General Officer Commanding IPKF (South) Sri Lanka revealed that 12 hours before the election, he met two top diplomats in the Indian High Commission in Colombo. While one of the two couldn’t fathom how Rajapaksa could possibly lose, the other differed and said that if he did win, it would be by a very thin margin. During his talk, he addressed the question of why Rajapaksa lost. Maj. Gen. Mehta highlighted two main reasons for the astounding loss. He said that it could be attributed to the alienation of the minorities, mainly the Tamils and perhaps more importantly the Muslims. Also the former President’s brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa wielded a lot of power in the government and over Rajapaksa himself. This did not sit well with the people of Sri Lanka.

Maj. Gen. Mehta went on to explain that the unseating could be traced back to meetings that were held 3 years ago in London and Colombo between Ranil Wickremasinghe, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Jayampathi Wickramaratne and Mangala Pinsiri Samaraweera. He added that the greatest achievement of the Rajapaksa Government was not only eliminating terrorism but also setting Sri Lanka on a growth trajectory of 7 to 8 percent. He pointed out that the Rajapaksa government was hugely indebted to the Chinese and only a beginning has been made to move away from China’s influence. He concluded his address by saying that Sirisena, the newly elected president, will have to act as an effective medium between the various coalition parties in the future after the "100 Day Programme" was clouded in uncertainty.

Prof. SD Muni, former Ambassador to Laos, honoured with "Sri Lanka Ratna" in 2005 and currently Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, began his address by analysing why Rajapaksa lost even though he was well prepared when the elections were declared. He suggested that the "Rainbow Coalition", which had the blessings of the international community, as well as the dent that Sirisena was able to make in the Sinhalese votes, were the foremost reasons.

Prof. SD Muni said that the votes in Colombo had been "anti-Rajapaksa" and not "pro-Sirisena". Prof. Muni observed that the President is "not an ambitious man". He said the President leans more towards organization than political ambition and this will be vital in determining the final outcome as the SLFP is currently quite disorganized.

On the question of constitutional amendment, Prof. SD Muni expressed his doubt as the party, despite having absolute majority, did not have the requisite two-thirds vote. He also credited the security establishments, namely the police and army, for not intervening and ensuring the delivery of a free and fair presidential election. The Sri Lankan economy has averaged at a growth rate of 6-7 percent even through crises and this he attributed to that fact that all the manufacturing industries were located in urban areas and not in conflict ridden rural regions. He stated that the new President’s emphasis will be on the democratization of politics, anti corruption and rebuilding wrought relations with other countries.

Prof. Muni also added that it was unlikely that the 13th Amendment would be implemented, but the spirit of the amendment, i.e., accommodation, would play a much larger role relative to Rajapaksa’s rule. Implementation of the 13th Amendment - born out of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 - has remained a long-pending demand of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main party representing the island’s Northern Tamils. The Amendment envisages substantive devolution of political powers to the provinces. He observed that pressure from Tamil Nadu would reduce and more attention would be diverted to issues like developing Colombo. Regarding Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, he believes that Colombo will ease up on the West but China will not be and cannot be abandoned as it has huge economic promise not only for Sri Lanka but for the world. He concluded his comprehensive address by drawing attention to the fact that the growing investment in Sri Lanka by India could cause a backlash and has become a bargaining chip in the hands of the Lankan government.

Ambassador Alok Prasad, former Deputy National Security Advisor and Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Singapore and Japan, began his talk by asking how the coalition is to function and where the new locus of power would be. He said that the results were momentous and that the vote was in favour of democracy, civil liberties and against growing autocracy. With regard to the 13th amendment, he clearly stated that India would not push for it as "India is not in the business of exporting its constitution to others". He acknowledged that places like the Elephant Pass were important strategic locations and completely removing military presence would be strategically untenable.

He pointed out that the security of India and Sri Lanka is inseparable. He also clarified that former President Rajapaksa had used the China factor to deflect the Tamil pressure that existed. He ended his address by saying that much hope existed both abroad and in the hearts of the people of Sri Lanka for this new government and hopefully there would be a positive change.

The presentations were followed by a lively discussion. A question regarding China’s membership in SAARC was answered by Prof. Muni who said that it would be disastrous as it would give China a veto over the organization’s projects. All panellists also agreed that on the question of implementation of the 13th amendment it is better to ensure the spirit of the amendment is applied rather than the literal wording.

(This report is prepared by Sai Shakti, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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