14 June, 2024


Sri Lanka’s Political Landscape: Navigating A Tripartite Contest

By Athulasiri Samarakoon

Dr. Athulasiri Kumara Samarakoon

As Sri Lanka braces itself for a pivotal presidential election, the specter of a tripartite contest looms large, promising both challenges and opportunities for the nation’s political future. Against a backdrop of delayed and cancelled elections, disillusionment with traditional political parties, and socioeconomic turmoil exacerbated by the global pandemic, the stage is set for a seismic shift in the country’s power dynamics.

The protracted postponements of provincial and local government elections have fuelled public frustration and eroded trust in the democratic process. The vacuum created by these delays has allowed incumbents to wield disproportionate influence, exploiting executive powers for personal gain and partisan advantage. The unchecked exercise of authority by appointed governors and the manipulation of electoral timelines have further eroded the foundations of democratic governance.

Amid this tumultuous landscape, the emergence of a tripartite contest offers a glimmer of hope for meaningful change. With three formidable contenders vying for the highest office, voters are presented with a diverse array of choices, each representing distinct ideologies, policies, and visions for the country’s future.

At the forefront of this political trinity is the incumbent President, whose campaign seeks to portray him as the savior of the nation, the bulwark against regression to past crises. Leveraging diplomatic engagements and touted achievements, the president’s narrative aims to project stability and continuity, framing any opposition as a threat to ongoing reform efforts.

Opposing this narrative are two formidable challengers, each commanding significant grassroots support and offering alternative paths forward. Sajith Premadasa, with his track record of grassroots mobilization and welfare-oriented policies, embodies a pragmatic approach that seeks to balance the imperatives of development with social justice. His ability to rally support from diverse sectors of society, coupled with a commitment to addressing the needs of the marginalized, positions him as a potent force for change.

Central to Premadasa’s platform is his commitment to advancing welfare policies, epitomized by his Welfare 3.0 agenda[1]. Emphasizing the importance of free education and equitable access to opportunities, Premadasa champions the expansion of educational resources and technological infrastructure in schools. His focus on developing technological literacy among school students underscores his dedication to empowering the next generation with the skills needed to thrive in the digital age.

In parallel, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, with his appeal to disaffected youth and a platform centered on anti-corruption and systemic reform, represents a break from traditional politics. Harnessing the power of social media and grassroots organizing, Dissanayake’s message resonates with a populace disillusioned by decades of entrenched corruption and cronyism.

In contrast to the promises of change offered by Premadasa and Dissanayake, the alliance between Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa, critics may argue, undermines the people’s aspirations for systemic reform and accountability, potentially stifling efforts to break free from the grip of traditional power structures.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe‘s focus on securing victory appears to prioritize political expediency over ethical considerations, as evidenced by his alignment with traditional power structures and market-driven policies. Despite growing calls for systemic reform and ethical governance, his steadfast commitment to market mechanisms underscores a reluctance to challenge entrenched economic paradigms, potentially alienating voters seeking a departure from past neoliberal policies.

On the foreign policy front, Sajith Premadasa seems to articulate a stance of diplomatic neutrality, expressing readiness to engage with all major powers on an equitable basis. Conversely, Mr. Wickremasinghe’s recent revelation of his close ties with Prime Minister Modi of India at the opening of the Rathnadeepa Hotel signals a continued alignment with Western and Indian alliances, despite recent agreements with Iran.

Both Mr. Premadasa and Mr. Dissanayake’s meetings during the last week with the Chinese delegation signify a proactive approach to engaging with major powers, highlighting their commitment to fostering diplomatic relations beyond traditional alliances. This contrasted with their absence from an opportunity to greet the President of Iran, underscoring the complexities and strategic considerations inherent in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy landscape.

However, as the campaign intensifies, the battleground will be fiercely contested, with each camp deploying all available resources and strategies to secure victory. From the distribution of patronage to the manipulation of state media, from appeals to traditional values to promises of economic prosperity, the arsenal of tactics employed will be as varied as the aspirations of the electorate.

Yet, amidst the cacophony of campaign rhetoric and political maneuvering, the fundamental question remains: What future do the people of Sri Lanka envision for their country? Will they succumb to the allure of entrenched power structures and familiar faces, or will they dare to embrace the promise of change and forge a new path forward?

In this crucible of competing visions and aspirations, the outcome of the presidential election will not only determine the trajectory of Sri Lanka’s political landscape but also shape its social and economic future for generations to come. As the nation stands at a crossroads, the choice before its citizens is clear: to uphold the status quo or to chart a new course guided by principles of accountability, justice, and inclusivity.

In the end, it is not merely the outcome of the election that will define Sri Lanka’s destiny, but the collective will of its people to demand and realize a brighter, more equitable future for all.

[1] The Welfare 3.0 agenda focuses on advancing welfare policies, emphasizing free education, equitable access to opportunities, and technological development, particularly in Sri Lanka’s education system.

*The writer is a senior lecturer in Politics and International Studies at the Open University of Sri Lanka

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Dr. A S, A seismic shift has to come from deep underground reality. What is the glimmer of hope for meaningful change that you really see. At the moment, the reality is superficially the same with no evidence of change.

    • 1

      “Despite growing calls for systemic reform and ethical governance, his steadfast commitment to market mechanisms underscores a reluctance to challenge entrenched economic paradigms, potentially alienating voters seeking a departure from past neoliberal policies.”
      This author, as is currently fashionable, calls for “system change” without defining it. As for “entrenched economic paradigms” , isn’t that what Gota challenged with his money-printing Central Bank. The basic principle of even home economics is to not spend more than one earns.
      Premadasa’s welfarism sounds very nice, but has he laid out how he is going to finance it? Gota too printed and doled out cash during the epidemic. Did it do any good, and was not the result worse than the disease?
      AKD ‘s plans are not much different. He has already pledged not to scrap but re-negotiate the IMF agreement. How the IMF will take that remains to be seen.
      Ranil, meanwhile, is promising goodies like an end to the car import ban (predictably, after the polls). It seems our politicians will never learn.

  • 0

    … a diverse array of choices, each representing distinct ideologies, policies, and visions for the country’s future.
    I wonder how Athulasiri Samarakoon envisages such a climate.
    The phrase, the incumbent President, is abominable, to say the least. He is the caretaker.
    And, to imagine that he is the savior of the nation is laughable.
    Among other things, Ranil Wickremesinghe, teaming with Mahinda Rajapaksa, is the culprit responsible for the present quagmire in which we find our nation.

  • 1

    Was Nelson Mandela a terrorist or liberation leader?
    Was Fidal Castro a terrorist or liberation leader
    Was Sadam Hussain a terrorist or liberation leader?
    Was Anura Dissanayaka a terrorist or liberation leader?
    Was Prabaharan a terrorist or liberation leader?
    Was Anura Dissanayaka killed more Human rights activists or civilians or journalists or surrendered youths than Mahinda Rajapaksa or Gotabaya Rajapaksa or JR Jeyawardena or Premadasa?
    Who is protecting the criminals and corrupted politicians now?
    The country is not jet back to normal or economy did not move from the state of two years back. Just an adjustment made by the sponsors of Ranil Wickremasinghe.

    • 1

      I think if RW started bringing them into jails, nothing like what he achieved for the nation during the last 2 years would not be possible.
      If normalcy was not brought up, things would not have changed as of today. Even today, petrol, diesal and gas queues would have been existing.
      Tourists would not have arrived. Today almost many across the country earn their living thanks to increasing number of tourists.
      if normalcy was not brought back, Short of Medicine and essential needs would have been existing.

      PEOPLE have forgotten all at once. They are ungrateful. That is their genetics. Even today, people dont use their brains but emotions. Why on earth, should they attack incumbent president for what all POHOTTUWA men have created ? 6.9 millions of VOTERs should be made responsible for the mess, instead.
      Gota had made promises a lot but RW did not. He came to iron out all what gota and his brothers destroyed within Gota s term. That he did and dollar value is now appreciated.
      He took the risk to restore normalcy in a country where all was upside down by Rajapkshe. Instead of considering the situiaton, pepole to expect all from him within the last 2 years is beyond comprehension.

      • 1

        “I think if RW started bringing them into jails, nothing like what he achieved for the nation during the last 2 years would not be possible.”

        But If “Aragalya” of JVP/NPP not started in this country there is no possibility of Ranil W taking power with the help of USA. Ranil W. even after the 2020 parliamentary elections kept the only one nominated MP for UNP for many months. Probably he nominated himself to that post after many months.

  • 0

    1.the question that the author must consider is the prefernce votes because no one will get 50%+.

    1. AKD will get the highest votes.However a person voting for him will vote preference for sajit.

    2.sajit will get the second highest vote.A person voting for him will vote preference for AKD.

    3.Ranilwill be third.The baggage he carries is the rajapakshes.The prefernce will go to sajit.

    president of sri lanka sajit premedasa.The main reason being he is non controversial.

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