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Sri Lanka - 2015 General Election

Sirisena promised to hold fresh parliamentary elections within 100 days. In India, some analysts had voiced concerns that Sri Lanka under Rajapaksa had been moving to build close relations with New Delhi’s rival, China.

President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved the parliament on 26 June 2015 and scheduled the general election to be held on 17 August. Sirisena needed parliamentary support to push through reforms, including limits on the powers of the executive presidency. The two main parties of the government, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom party (SLFP) contested the general election separately. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is split between Sirisena and Rajapaksa, who may bid for the prime ministership.

In one camp are former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his allies within the United People’s Freedom Alliance, including some members from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. In the other camp are members of the United National Party and minority parties such as the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Tamil Progressive Alliance, the Tamil National Alliance and the National Heritage Party. These parties, allied under the United National Front for Good Governance, are perceived as running against policies of the past administration in favor of reforms.

Both Rajapaksa and Sirisena belonged to the same party, and its loyalties were divided between them. That is why the President had to reluctantly agree to allow the party to nominate Rajapaksa for the prime minister’s post. He was believed to be backing Prime Minister Wirckremesinghe, with whom he had formed an alliance to defeat Rajapaksa in January. Rajapaksa’s battle to stay politically relevant stemmed from his need to protect himself and his family from charges of corruption.

Candidates running on a similar platform gained a majority of seats in parliamentary elections held in August 2015. Domestic and international observers concurred that the August 2015 parliamentary elections were conducted in a fair and free manner with few reports of violence. The European Union election observation mission’s preliminary findings stated that the elections were “well administered and offered voters a genuine choice from among a broad range of political alternatives, although campaign rules were restrictive.” The mission added that freedoms of assembly and movement were respected and that, despite restrictive campaign rules, such as not allowing candidates to engage in door-to-door campaigning, canvass in person, or distribute leaflets, party activists and candidates campaigned vigorously.

Sirisena led a national unity government comprising the pro-business United National Party (UNP), the reformist wing of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and several smaller political parties. The coalition has embarked on a major political and economic reform process including constitutional reforms aimed at reducing the powers of the executive president. The government is working to improve its relations with other countries and to develop its economy to compete more effectively in the global marketplace.

President Sirisena led a drive to reform the autocratic regime headed by Rajapaksa, who was accused of corruption, intimidating opponents, weakening parliament and the judiciary, and journalists, and human rights abuses during his decade-long rule. He also leaned towards China, while President Sirisena restored what he called “balance” to the country’s foreign policy.

In trying to woo Rajapaksa loyalists after the election — in which the UPFA lost but came a not too distant second — Sirisena appointed defeated candidates to Parliament through the National List. However, this flew in the face of the much-hyped ‘yahapaalanaya’ (good governance) that he preached during his election campaign. Sirisena was not averse to trying Rajapaksa’s formula of wooing MPs with cabinet portfolios, some of whom had outstanding allegations of bribery and corruption against them. This has eroded the President’s credibility.

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