COLOMBO • Sri Lanka’s parliamentary elections handed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his older brother an overwhelming majority, final results showed yesterday, giving the family the power to enact sweeping changes to the Constitution of the island nation.
President Rajapaksa had sought, and achieved, a two-thirds majority for his Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party and its allies to be able to restore full executive powers to the presidency, a move analysts say could push the country towards authoritarianism.
The ruling group won 145 seats in Wednesday’s elections and can count on at least five allies in the new 225-member legislature, according to Election Commission results.
The two-thirds majority will see Mr Rajapaksa’s brother and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, 74, taking over as prime minister tomorrow as the tourism-dependent nation struggles to recover from last year’s deadly Islamist militant attacks and, more recently, lockdowns to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
The brothers’ popularity has risen among the majority Sinhalese since the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks and because of their record in crushing Tamil separatist rebels in 2009.
President Rajapaksa, 71, said the restoration of full executive powers was necessary to implement his agenda to make the country of 21 million economically and militarily secure. No timeline has been set for such a move.
“We will ensure (Sri Lanka) will not stand disappointed during our tenure,” Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Twitter.
Currently, significant power is bestowed on Parliament and the prime minister after a previous government led by the now-opposition amended the Constitution and set up independent commissions to oversee the police and the judiciary, among other arms of the government.
“We have seen in the past when governments have had a two-thirds majority, (they do) not have to worry about checks and balances,” historian and political scientist Jayadeva Uyangoda said.
“In fact they have untrammelled power, that is what we have observed in both India and Sri Lanka. In the past in Sri Lanka, the governments which had this level of power in 1970 and thereafter in 1977 generated a lot of social discontent.”
Veteran journalist and political commentator Victor Ivan anticipates a power struggle between the brothers, who are known for stamping out the Tamil Tigers insurgency for a separate homeland for the Hindu minority during the elder Rajapaksa’s presidency in 2009, ending a 25-year civil war.
We have seen in the past when governments have had a two-thirds majority, (they do) not have to worry about checks and balances. In fact they have untrammelled power, that is what we have observed in both India and Sri Lanka.
HISTORIAN AND POLITICAL SCIENTIST JAYADEVA UYANGODA
“The President wants to change the Constitution to take back the power to the presidency,” Mr Ivan said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE