Pro-China Populists Consolidate Power in Sri Lanka

Pro-China Populists Consolidate Power in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka—The Rajapaksa family cemented its grip on Sri Lanka in parliamentary elections, according to results released Friday, gaining enough seats to push through constitutional changes increasing executive power. With the win, Mahinda Rajapaksa will remain prime minister—but now with a supermajority in Parliament—and lead with his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected president in November. With a message of stability and strong leadership, the brothers’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party won over voters hammered by a weakening economy and devastating terrorist attacks—though its focused appeal to the majority Sinhala Buddhist population raises concerns for the island nation’s large minority communities. The party scooped 145 seats in the 225-seat Parliament, and, with allies, controls over 150, exceeding the two-thirds majority required for amending the constitution. “We will ensure #lka [Sri Lanka] will not stand disappointed during our tenure,” Mahinda Rajapaksa tweeted Friday. Mahinda Rajapaksa had been serving as prime minister with a minority government since his predecessor, from a rival party, resigned following November’s presidential election. Seen as the more charismatic and popular of the brothers, he had served as president between 2005 and 2015, as Sri Lanka embraced China, becoming a showcase for Beijing’s global infrastructure initiative. The port of Hambantota, developed by China in the Rajapaksas’ hometown, became an emblem of what Washington calls Beijing’s “debt- trap diplomacy” after the next government—unable to afford the payments—handed it over to China on a 99-year lease. Beijing says it is a commercial port, but the U ...
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