Rajapaksa, who led Sri Lanka for a decade before he lost to Sirisena and Wickremesinghe in 2015, has defended the push for a new election as a way to bring stability to the country.
“A general election will truly establish the will of the people and make way for a stable country,” Rajapaksa said in a post on Twitter late on Friday.
The speaker of Sri Lanka’s parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, has warned the country could descend into political violence if the legislature remained suspended. Jayasuriya had said he can’t recognize Rajapaksa until he demonstrates a majority in the legislature, and lawmakers wanted a vote on Sirisena’s decision to fire Wickremesinghe.
Relations between Wickremesinghe and Sirisena became strained this year after their coalition was defeated in local elections by a Rajapaksa-backed party. Sirisena said he had to fire Wickremesinghe for mismanaging the economy and because of a cabinet minister’s alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate Sirisena.
While Wickremesinghe may get some sympathy from the recent developments, Rajapaksa, who comes from rural southern Sri Lanka, retains a strong degree of support among the Sinhala ethnic majority by espousing a fiercely proud Buddhist nationalism.
Many ordinary Sri Lankans support the plain-speaking Rajapaksa and his brand of politics, National Peace Council’s Perera said. “The voting masses go with, and have a greater affinity for, Rajapaksa’s type of politics
and his persona,” he said.
The political uncertainty in Sri Lanka also has geopolitical implications for regional powers, with both China and India watching the events closely. Analysts see Rajapaksa likely favoring China for funding costly infrastructure projects. New Delhi will probably keep working in the background unless there is overt Chinese intervention, said Constantino Xavier, a foreign policy fellow at Brookings India.
The decision of Wickremesinghe to hold on to power despite Sirisena replacing him created “an embarrassing stalemate,” said Paul Staniland, an associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago. That made Sirisena “up the ante,” he said.
“The Supreme Court looks like it will be forced to enter the fray now, with incredibly high stakes and a huge amount of uncertainty about the outcome,” said Staniland. “This showdown is putting extraordinary stress on Sri Lanka’s political institutions in ways that will be very difficult to recover from.”