Sri Lanka: Briefing Note — 2024-03-26

For a detailed timeline of major events in Sri Lanka post-2019, please visit our Sri Lanka Timeline.

Our previous Sri Lanka briefing notes can found here.

Election season begins

  • While speculation continues to run rampant in certain circles about whether the Presidential or Parliamentary election will be held first, it seems clear that President Wickremesinghe (RW) intends to hold the former first.
    • He continues to position the economic reforms and IMF program as the priority for the country, and the only way forward for Sri Lanka.
    • Leveraging that, his personal positioning is that of the only person with the expertise, and the ability to form a broad consensus among the political class to carry through with it.
    • The question, as has been the case throughout his career, is whether he can convince ordinary voters that this is the case.
  • RW’s main points of attack were on full-display at a rally for the United National Party that he leads.
    • Speaking about the breakaway SJP party (led by Sajith Premadasa((SP))), he stated:

the foundational principles of the United National Party are absent in the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), appealed to former United National Party members who joined the SJB to unite in safeguarding the nation from indebtedness and contribute to constructing a secure future for generations to come.

  • RW also continues to engage with the once Rajapaksa-led, but now factionalised SLPP party.
    • While a section of the SLPP’s MPs back him, his campaign requires the support of the Rajapaksa family.
    • Though the Rajapaksas continue to send mix messages, at this stage it is safe to assume that these are negotiating ploys, and their support will come sooner rather than later.
  • For the SJB, the key factor is likely to be whether SP can hold his fractious party together.
    • With him seemingly firmly against joining RW, claiming that he will never form an alliance that includes the SLPP, the real issue will hinge on other MPs in his party.
    • Most of them have a personal connection to both RW and the UNP, and the temptation to rejoin them, particularly given the powers of the executive presidency wielded by RW, may prove too strong.
  • SP has also courted former SLPP MPs, who are not aligned with either the Rajapkasas or RW. Integrating them has proved a further stress point for the SJB.
  • The NPP, whose campaign has revolved around mass rallies, have extended this overseas, with large gatherings in Canada being noteworthy recently.
    • Irrespective of location, their messaging continues to revolve around the same themes of elite failure, and the need for a “system change”.
      • The latter mirrors the theme of the protests in 2022 that led to the fall of Gotabya Rajapaska government.
    • The question is then whether their lack of expertise and experience – a key point of attack for their rivals – will be considered a weakness or a virtue by a cynical & disillusioned electorate.