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  • MODERATOR:

    Hello and welcome to the chat with Aditi Phadnis, Political Editor, Business Standard


    ADITI PHADNIS:

    Hello, everyone


  • K

    KANNAN

    Do you think this marks the end of Rajapaksha's political career? What does it mean for India?

    ADITI PHADNIS

    I think we still have to wait for the final result. I know Mr Rajapaksa said he had conceded defeat but that was at 0633 hours. since then, UNPA has gained a lot. Even if he loses the election, I certainly don't think we can write his epitaph. In the South, he is still a very popular figure.


  • K

    KANNAN

    What could be the possible impact for the Tamils in particular?

    ADITI PHADNIS

    Judging from the results pouring in, the ITAK (Tamil Party) has won in the North and East with the UNP coming second. This is par for the course. Now we have to see if the new prime minister goes as far as he promised he would in giving all the rights to the Tamils. The Tamils of Sri Lanka need to start thinking of themselves as citizens of Sri Lanka. But they can do that only if they know there is a level playing field in terms of how the police behaves, whether they are equal before the law, etc. all these reassurances can come if the autonomous institutions for police accountability are set up quickly.


  • S

    SOMNATH

    What will be the new relation with China?

    ADITI PHADNIS

    It all depends on who the new Prime Minister is. If Mr Rajapaksa returns (and the final result is yet to come) China will definitely have an upper hand in Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa will overturn the Wickremesinghe diktat that the USD 1.5 bn Colombo Port City project - which is supposed to be a mixed us development of the Colombo Port being financed and built by the Chinese - be put on hold. Plus there will be other goodies for China. Remember, Sri Lanka, always a resilient economy, is currently on a roll: the per capita GDP could double in the next 7 to 8 years, the rate of growth in the North and East (because of the low base) is upwards of 20 per cent, and real estate, agri business and tourism are doing extremely well....If you're an investor, Colombo is the place to be...


  • J

    JERRY

    Does this mean this is the end of Rajapaksa and his family's hold over Sri Lankan politics. Also isn't this a good development for India's interests in the region as Rajapaksa was known to be closer to China than India.

    ADITI PHADNIS

    If Mr Rajapaksa loses the election by a wide margin, Right now, judging by the current result, UNP or Mr Wickremesinghe has 46.3 per cent of the vote while Mr Rajapaksa has 43 per cent. This is not a wide margin by any stretch of imagination. If this trend continues, Wickremesinghe will have to make a conscious choice - go after the Rajapaksa clan and put them all in jail; or recognize that he continues to have popular support and fight him politically. Rajapaksa has too much at stake - he's not going to give everything up and retire to the jungles. But we have to see how he will hit back...


  • T

    TN

    Will this alter Sino-Sinhala ties in any way? Policy wise, this government can't afford to cold-shoulder the Chinese, given the massive investments they have already promised? And what can India do to woo the new government?

    ADITI PHADNIS

    In informal chats with government in New Delhi, this is what I got it is clear they would prefer Mr Wickremesinghe for a range of reasons: 1. Rajapaksa's eggs are all in the Chinese basket and India was not able to get a foot in the door because of all the sweeteners Beijing had thrown Rajapaksa's way. 2. The Tamil project: it is important to have a PM and President who are on the same page. 3. The recasting of the Sri Lankan State as envisaged in the constitutional changes is not EXACTLY what India wants but close. To answer the first question, Sino Sinhala ties are not new and nor is it a new irritant in India-Sri Lanka relations. But as long as the President and PM reassure Delhi that it will not be elbowed out, Delhi will not ask for more. To expect that Ranil Wickremesinghe would shut Beijing out altogether is not realistic: after all, he has his country's interests to look out for. If I were the Indian Prime Minister, I would invite the new PM/President of Sri Lanka as chief guest for the Republic Day parade.


  • K

    KANNAN

    What's the present balance of power between the Prez and PM .Does the Prez have a veto?

    ADITI PHADNIS

    The constitutional curbs on the President are that he cannot dissolve Parliament until it has completed four of its five year term; and a little bit like the Indian system, he has to invite the leader of the man who has the backing of maximum MPs in Parliament. What complicates the issue is that apart from being President, Maithripala Sirisena is also the UNPA (Mr Rajapaksa's) chief. Right now, to forestall Rajapaksa's bid to become PM, he has already expelled 13 officebearers from the UNPA, thus preventing them from gathering support for Rajapaksa. Sri Lankans are obsessed with constitutionalism (they sniff at the Indian system of first past the post, because it is unrepresentative and primitive) But sometimes the best becomes the enemy of the good. Hopefully Mr Sirisena will not have to use heavy-handed and patently undemocratic methods to deal with the Rajapaksa challenge. The worst case scenario is if Rajapaksa wins and he and Sirisena begin to fight...


  • S

    SUNIL

    Sri Lanka has been ravaged by 40 years of insurgency and civil war. Will this electoral verdict turn things around in the island country? If so, how?

    ADITI PHADNIS

    You're absolutely right. I think Sri Lanka is at a turnaround cusp. This election was all about repairing and healing. I am not saying the process is complete. But the country needs someone to lead it who is progressive, market friendly and not bigoted but still has the support and backing of the Buddhist clergy. The North and East have tried everything - ethnic separation, the promise of division and now reconciliation. But there is one thing they are yet to try out - integration with the market economics of Sri Lanka. I am absolutely sure that once the development of the pristine beaches in Trincomalee and the beauty of Batticaloa's Dutch settlements is explored and opened up to visitors, it will create jobs, dollar salaries and integration. To be sure, identity politics will continue. But it will be the first step towards making Lanka whole again - one country.


  • V

    VIVEK

    How will the election results affect Sri Lanka's relations with China, given the fact that China is the largest investor and second-biggest trading partner in the country.

    ADITI PHADNIS

    China and Sri Lanka have ALWAYS had a relationship - political, ideological as well as strategic. From Lanka's point of view, you have all these Tamil-speaking Indians breathing down their neck just 12 km away across the water. In their place, what would you do ? Obviously cultivate someone who can stave off threats arising from there. However, the Chinese have resisted the temptation of taking sides in Sri Lanka's ethnic war: they have only poured money into Sri Lanka which Colombo was grateful for; but is now finding a millstone around its neck. For the government debt servicing is the biggest challenge currently. Private sector Chinese investment has become extremely cautious of investing in Sri Lanka of late. You have investment advisors telling businessmen in China to be wary of investing in Sri Lanka unless all laws have been understood fully. This is because they understand that Sri Lanka for all its rule of law, is quite capable of subverting the law and making rules up as they go along. Am I describing a kleptocracy ? Lanka is close to it....


  • U

    UDAY

    This is the second electoral defeat for the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa this year. Does this mark the end of his political career and beginning of legal woes, given allegations of his high-handed rule?

    ADITI PHADNIS

    IF he is defeated - and the jury is still out, we can't make a final judgment till the last vote is counted - certainly he is in big trouble. He riled the West by trampling over human rights and the Tamil diaspora is preparing to chase him in every human rights court on earth. The US is a bit cautious: the LTTE was on the banned list. And locally in Sri Lanka, a government led by Ranil will hunt him down. But is this wise ? Going after a political rival ? Especially when he continues to have popular support ? Won't this lead to a revival of his base and create grounds for his resurrection? The answer is to have credible institutions which are autonomous and pursue him on the back of their credibility. Either way, Mr Rajapaksa is not going to have an easy time of it - which is why the stakes for him are so high.


  • MODERATOR:

    Thank you everyone for your questions. This chat is now over.

    Thank you for sharing your insights, Aditi. Look forward to having you on the chat again.


    ADITI PHADNIS:

    You are most welcome.


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