RSTV – India’s World: Sri Lanka Political Crisis & Nawaz Sharif Banned for Life


Anchor: Frank Rausan Pereira

Speakers: Vivek Katju, Former Diplomat; SD Muni, Foreign Affairs Expert; S Venkat Narayan, India Bureau Chief, The Island, Srilanka

Importance of this Episode:

  • Sri Lanka’s President has suspended Parliament until May 8th, 2018 days after a failed no-confidence motion attempt against the Prime Minister and the defection of several ministers post a cabinet reshuffle. A Government decree, quoted the President as stating that he had halted Parliament’s meetings under article 70 of the constitution. The move came hours after at least 16 Sirisena loyalists, including 16 cabinet ministers said that they would leave the troubled coalition. Relations between the rival groups in the unity government have soured after both sides suffered losses in February’s local council elections. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party had increased pressure on the followers of Maithripala Sirisena, who voted against Wickremesinghe in a recent no-confidence motion to resign.
  • This edition of India’s World analysis the political situation in Sri Lanka currently.    

Analysis by the Experts:

Currently, the political situation in Sri Lanka is very tense. One would have to go back to 2015 when Sri Lanka had a presidential election- and for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka, two mainstream political parties, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SFLP) got together, with the primary aim of throwing Mahinda Rajapakse out of office.  But, there is an internal struggle for power currently between the two mainline parties.  Ranil Wickramasenghe and Maithripala Sirisena should have ideally been working together to execute the ‘Yahapalanaya’ i.e. good governance, but unfortunately, this is not happening. But, this is not happening due to the following reasons:

  1. Supporters of Ranil Wickramasenghe are putting pressure on him to expand his base,
  2. Sirisena, who had said that he was going to contest for the Presidential post only once, is thinking of contesting for a second term and he is trying to get as many people from Rajapakse’s faction to his side.
  3. Also, Ranil Wickramasenghe has not been taking Sirisena into confidence and discussing things before taking major decisions and thus the President is very upset about it. This is why he has been divesting main portfolios from Wickramasenghe’s control and thus there is obviously a lot of tension and it came to a halt when both the parties did very badly in the local elections.

However, it must be said that the two leaders did not gel together even after the formation of the unity government. Ranil Wickramasenghe somehow ran into problems within his own party- where many of his members somehow do not like him. Perhaps, this is because he has been leading for a very long time. Thus we have a situation where:

1. The leaders are not in command of their parties

2. The parties have a lot of disaffiliation vis-à-vis their leaders

3. And that in the process, they have forgotten the national agenda which brought them to power

Although it is surprising that the no-confidence vote which everybody thought is heavily pitted against the Prime Minister, was in fact, carried in his favour. Also, Ranil Wickramasenghe’s sole opponents within his own party who decided to vote against him were at the last moment compelled to vote for him. Further, Ranil Wickramasenghe got the Tamil votes as he is seen in Sri Lanka as someone who is moderate on the Tamils, who wants a constitutional solution of the Tamil problem and he has a far more humanitarian approach to the Tamil issue. Therefore, today we stand at a situation where there is a lot of flux; there is a confusion. The vote has been won by the Prime Minister, but this does not necessarily mean that the problems would be resolved.

The present move of the President seems to only be a move towards buying time. This is so that he can do some maneuvering to strengthen his position. But, if you look at this through a larger perspective which shows that the Sinhala are not fraying among themselves- and that there are three poles now that have clearly emerged. There is the Mahinda Rajapakse camp, Ranil and Sirisena. It is very difficult at this stage to predict as to how all of this would ultimately turnabout. But, one thing is certain and that is that Rajapakse is back at a stage that perhaps he wanted to be. Also, he would be watching these developments with some satisfaction. What would happen over the next few months is difficult to predict though. It is also quite possible that the move to prorogue Parliament is meant only to ensure that some attempts at bringing about a rapprochement, however temporary, could be undertaken by the President. But in all this as of now, the President is at his weakest.

In a matter of speaking, Rajapakse is actually knocking at the gates. The constitution forbids him from trying for a third time, but nothing prevents him from becoming the Prime Minister. Thus, it is very important for their own survival that Ranil Wickramasenghe and Maithripala Sirisena, come to an understanding, work together and see the Presidential term through, i.e. until the 6 year term gets over in 2021.

The Chinese threat: The Chinese have invested a lot of money, and already the Hambantota airport has already been practically handed over to the Chinese.  Also, the Chinese have huge stakes in the Colombo airport as well. Plus, they are expanding on the ‘One-Belt-One-Road’ initiative.

Thus, if the two leaders do not work together, they would have to have elections. Perhaps today there isn’t anyone who can replace Ranil Wickramasenghe as Prime Minister.

What does India want? India wants stability to begin with- and a stability that is sympathetic to our concerns and sensitivities. To that extent, the present Unity government is the best option.  It is believed that Rajapakse, unfortunately, represents die-hard Sinhala nationalism and it is this Sinhala nationalism and Sinhala constituency that stands further fragmented in different leaders and people remember that Rajapakse not only stood for Sinhala nationalism but he also stood for a family rule, for autocracy, and all kinds of anti-Tamil posturing. Also, Rajapakse cannot be the next Presidential candidate unless the constitution has been changed, and it is not easy to change the constitution. The re-entry of Rajapakse is thus an open question. Further, India will not like anybody who is representing Sinhala nationalism against the Tamils, in an effort to dominate them; plus someone who is very close to the Chinese as well. Thus, for India, the best option would be for the Unity government to put its own house in order and somehow carry forward. Otherwise, even on the diplomatic side, India has opened out its channels to Rajapakse- knowing that if tomorrow he comes to power, then we should not be seeing it as totally out-of-the-blue!

A doctrine for India’s Neighbourhood : It is also believed that India should propound a doctrine for her neighbourhood and this doctrine should be that we are not concerned with the internal developments in any country, as long as those developments do not impinge on our security. Although the Chinese are in the neighbourhood, India has sufficient levers, and if India chooses to exercise those levers, adroitly, then she can get this message through. It is believed that India should now make this point to her neighbours- that India is not interested in the internal affairs of her sovereign neighbours. However, India will not accept certain red-lines being crossed. Currently, what is happening in the Maldives is a clear indication of the need for such a doctrine. Having a doctrine for India’s neighbourhood isn’t a sign of any hegemony.

  1. Pakistan’s Supreme Court bars Nawaz Sharif from contesting elections for life

Pakistan’s deposed Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif became ineligible to hold public office for life after the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the disqualification of two lawmakers, including him was permanent, in a landmark verdict that ended the future of the three-time premier ahead of the general elections this year. The verdict was issued by the apex court while hearing a case related to the determination of time duration for disqualification of a lawmaker under the constitution. Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court for not being honest and righteous as he failed to declare in 2013 a salary that he got from the company of his son in the UAE.  In February 2018, the court also disqualified Sharif as the head of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). In its verdict, the court observed that under the country’s constitution, no person, once disqualified from office by the top court can hold public office again.

This section will aim at discussing the implications that Pakistan’s Supreme court ruling would have.

It is believed that the Pakistani’s are tying themselves up in knots. In Pakistan’s constitution under Article 62(1)(f), it says that legislators must be ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’, i.e. trustworthy and honest. Now, the constitution itself does not prescribe, or the subordinate laws implementing this do not prescribe any time-limit for disqualification. Thus, the Pandora’s box is now open. If for any reason, a Prime Minister, a minister, a legislator is declared that he is not ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’, then he goes. Now, this is an instrument in the hands of the Pakistani judiciary and the Pakistani Army. Also, in this particular case, they have been acting together.

The alarming this is that in other cases as well now, the same article can be invoked and people can be just chucked aside. This article maybe invoked against the PPP or against anyone. Thus, the Pakistani’s must need to do serious introspection because of this judgement, and it is believed that within the Pakistani civil society and from what has clearly emerged from their mainstream media, that there is a lot of churning on this. The termed being used here is the ‘Judicialization of Politics’.  Also, it is important to note that the Army has almost always got its way in this instance. Although, what the next elections will show up is a question mark, because the PML –N can’t be ruled out, especially in the Punjab region.

It is also acknowledged that the polarization is also along the lines of whether or not, you want the elected civilian government to run its course or not; and also to what extent the barricades which are being erected through the judiciary or through the army in one form or the other should be legitimized and accepted. Thus, Nawaz has left nobody in doubt that he will fight it out. There are some divisions within in family, and between him and his brothers. But the real issue is whether or not the Army will be left to dictate the terms of the political structure or not. This is the issue which will come up in the upcoming elections. We should all keep our fingers crossed as the Army has the capacity and the resources to divide the civil constituency. They have also been playing one party against the other and they will play it again. Further, there are all kinds of developments that are currently taking place in Baluchistan, on religious and other counts; there are problems taking place in Sindh as well. There was a time when the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) had recommended the removal of this particular clause of the constitution, and interestingly, Nawaz had opposed the same at that time. Thus if the political class cannot put their act together, then the army has the capability to govern and dictate.

It is also believed that it is difficult to change this clause as it is Quranic in origin- that the rulers must be righteous. Thus, the religious right of Pakistan, in particular, will oppose any possible removal of this clause. Again, when this clause is Quranic in content- it does not limit the time for dismissal. Thus, the issue at stake before the judiciary was whether this would be in effect for one election or whether it was for all time to come. We realize that the general election in Pakistan is due anytime after June, 2018. Further, it is interesting that Pakistan has had a history of 17 Prime Ministers losing their jobs before completing their term. They Army- tracing back leaders like Ayub Khan, Yayha Khan, Pervez Musharraf and Zia-ul-Haq together ruled Pakistan for 32 years, but for the remaining period, although civilians were in office, from behind the doors, it was the Army that was running the show. Currently, Nawaz Sharif himself is a protégé of Zia-ul-Haq. Zia-ul-Haq had propped up Nawaz Sharif to take on Benazir Bhutto. Further, the ISI openly borrowed money from banks and pumped money into Nawaz Sharif’s campaign to see that he was elected. Also, earlier, he was sacked twice, and this is his third time that this is happening. But, the point is that Nawaz Sharif is possibly the richest politician in Asia, and that his assets are more than USD $ 4 Billion. One cannot wish away Nawaz Sharif- although he may stay at the back- but his daughter, his two sons, and his son-in-law also cannot fight elections as they are also implicated in the assets case. But, his younger brother who is the chief minister of Punjab, could possibly be propped up as the party’s candidate and through him, Nawaz may call the shots. Thus, one cannot write him off, but his reputation has been badly damaged.  Also, since the brothers, i.e. Shehbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif are close, thus, Nawaz would retain a modicum of influence. But, it is believed that Nawaz Sharif’s popularity will wane. This is because if a person can’t hold office, then, the patronage that he can exercise gets drastically reduced and therefore, we are now looking towards a post-Nawaz era. Also, an interesting thing that has been going on is that the Pakistani General, Bajwa since December 2017, has been talking about the need to have a dialogue with India to settle all issues including Kashmir through dialogue. Thus, it is believed that the Pakistani Army is trying to send out a message to India- to not worry about whichever political party may come to power, and that the Pakistani Army would like to play a part. But these kind of statements from the Pakistani Army are not new and have been repeated in many previous instances.

Further Reading:

UPSC aspirants are advised to read the latest available press-releases available on the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) website.  These press releases are usually accompanied by a brief historical background which helps during answer writing.

The below links throw light on the bilateral relationship between India and her neighbours, namely, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in a broader context and highlights recent issues and initiatives taken by the countries.  The links are as below:  



Read more RSTV articles here.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *