Sri Lanka’s president is struggling to keep his promises of reform

Jan 18, 2018

Inflation in a nutshell

AT THE time, it was seen as an astonishing victory. In retrospect, it was also something of a Pyrrhic one. Few expected Maithripala Sirisena to defeat the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the presidential election of 2015. After all, Mr Rajapaksa, although increasingly authoritarian, had presided in 2009 over the defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers, ending Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war. Mr Sirisena was merely a rebellious member of the president’s own Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). To win and then to govern, Mr Sirisena relied on the support of the SLFP’s main rival, the United National Party (UNP). As Sri Lankans prepare to vote in local elections on February 10th, that alliance has come to haunt him.

In theory, the alliance between the UNP and Mr Sirisena’s faction of the SLFP ended in December. But this is a polite fiction necessitated by the campaign. In practice, neither group has sufficient numbers in parliament to govern without the other. Mr Rajapaksa, who is backing a new outfit called the Sri Lanka People’s Front, has called on voters to treat the poll as a referendum on the government.

The lack of a fixed political base has coloured Mr Sirisena’s three years in office. The endless struggle to assert his authority over the SLFP has taken up much of his time...

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