Dinuka Liyanawatte / Reuters An air force officer holds Sri Lanka's national flag as the sun sets at Galle Face Green in Colombo, February 2, 2013.

Sri Lanka's Tangled Democracy

Primed for Progress in Colombo?

Sri Lanka’s parliamentary election is over, and the results are in. By capturing 45.7 percent of the votes and 106 seats in a vote held on August 17, the United National Party (UNP) has narrowly won.

This is something of a defeat for Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was Sri Lanka’s president until he was voted out in January 2015; he had hoped to make a political comeback and win the prime ministership. Rajapaksa and sitting President Maithripala Sirisena are both members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the dominant political party in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), a coalition that ruled the country for the past decade. Although Sirisena now officially heads both the SLFP and the UPFA, it was Rajapaksa who led the UPFA’s parliamentary election campaign. The UPFA might have pulled in a smaller share of the vote than the UNP (42.4 percent), but all is not lost for the alliance, since it still won 95 seats and Rajapaksa has become a member of parliament.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of Sri Lanka's United National Party (UNP), waves next to his wife Maitree Wickremesinghe at the Prime Minister's official residence in Colombo, August 19, 2015.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of Sri Lanka's United National Party (UNP), waves next to his wife Maitree Wickremesinghe at the Prime Minister's official residence in Colombo, August 19, 2015.

Still, the UNP lacks a simple majority, and the two major political parties, the UNP and the SLFP, are set to work together in a coalition government. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the head of the UNP, was renewed as prime minister. Sirisena, as president, would have kept his seat regardless of the parliamentary results.

As complicated as all this sounds, it could actually augur greater stability and more significant reform on the island.

EIGHT LONG MONTHS

The past eight months have proved unforgettable. In January 2015, Rajapaksa—who, as president, won Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war in 2009—was defeated in his quest for an unprecedented third term. His failure surprised many in the country and around the world, particularly because it came at the hands of Sirisena, a longtime member of the SLFP who had even held a cabinet position in Rajapaksa’s administration.

Sri Lanka's newly elected president Mithripala Sirisena waves at media as he leaves the election commission in Colombo, January 9, 2015.

Sri Lanka's newly elected president Mithripala Sirisena waves at media as he leaves the election commission in Colombo, January 9, 2015.

Sirisena promised to curtail the corruption, nepotism, and rising authoritarianism that had become hallmarks of the Rajapaksa regime; he also promised to abolish

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