Sri Lanka: Political situation, including political parties and alliances (2017-August 2020) [LKA200300.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Overview

According to the 2012 census [the most recent national census (Australia 4 Nov. 2019, para. 2.7], Sinhalese account for 74.9 percent of the population and mainly practice Buddhism, while Tamils represent 15.3% of the population and are mainly Hindus (UN 26 Aug. 2019; MRG Mar. 2018; Australia 4 Nov. 2019, para. 2.7).

Sources report that during the 2015 presidential election, opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena defeated the incumbent president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had been in power since 2005 (MRG Mar. 2018; Reuters 8 Jan. 2015). According to sources, Sirisena won the 2015 election with the support of a part of his own party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) (International Crisis Group 31 Oct. 2018) and of Ranil Wickremesinghe's party, the United National Party (UNP) (International Crisis Group 31 Oct. 2018; AP 26 Oct. 2018). Verité Research, a Colombo-based think tank providing strategic analysis for Asia (Verité Research n.d.), explains that following the election, some SLFP members followed the new president into the governing coalition he formed with the UNP and other allied parties, while others gave their support to former president Rajapaksa and formed an "informal faction known as the Joint Opposition (JO)" with other allied smaller parties (Verité Research Nov. 2017, 14). The same source adds that the JO members "formally remain a part of the SLFP" (Verité Research Nov. 2017, 14).

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) indicates that this political change "brought new hopes and aspirations for [Sri Lanka’s] Tamils," after years of continued rights abuses and militarization (MRG Mar. 2018). In his preliminary findings following his visit to Sri Lanka in August 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief writes that the Sirisena government was committed "to strengthen[ing] fundamental freedoms and the rule of the law that comprises of inclusiveness, justice and respect for human rights to all of the people of Sri Lanka," leading to the adoption of the Human Rights Council resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka (UN 26 Aug. 2019). For information on the treatment of Tamil citizens, see Response to Information Request LKA200298 of August 2020.

2. 2018 Constitutional Crisis

Sources explain that on 26 October 2018, President Maithripala Sirisena [of the SLFP (International Crisis Group 31 Oct. 2018)] dismissed Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe [of the UNP (International Crisis Group 31 Oct. 2018)] and appointed in his place the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he had defeated in the 2015 presidential election (International Crisis Group 31 Oct. 2018; Asia Society 4 Dec. 2018; AP 26 Oct. 2018). The Diplomat, a current-affairs magazine dedicated to the Asia-Pacific region (The Diplomat n.d.), indicates that this decision followed the SLFP departure from the national coalition it had formed with the UNP (The Diplomat 7 Jan. 2019).

Wickremesinghe subsequently argued that he still had the support of Parliament (The Diplomat 7 Jan. 2019; AP 26 Oct. 2018; International Crisis Group 31 Oct. 2018) and refused to leave office (Asia Society 4 Dec. 2018; AP 26 Oct. 2018). Sources report that President Sirisena then suspended Parliament to give Rajapaksa time to secure political support (International Crisis Group 31 Oct. 2018; Time 29 Oct. 2018; Asia Society 4 Dec. 2018). Sources report instances of bribery to convince MPs belonging to the opposition to join the new Prime Minister's party (Al Jazeera 2 Nov. 2018; Daily Mirror 3 Nov. 2018). However, sources report that Rajapaksa failed to secure a majority in the Parliament (The Diplomat 7 Jan. 2019; Freedom House 15 Nov. 2018; Asia Society 4 Dec. 2018). On 9 November 2018, Sirisena dissolved Parliament two years before the scheduled end of the legislature (Al Jazeera 13 Dec. 2018; VOA 13 Dec. 2018), but on 13 December 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the dissolution by Sirisena was against the Sri Lankan constitution (Al Jazeera 13 Dec. 2018; VOA 13 Dec. 2018; The Indian Express 13 Dec. 2018). Sources report that on 15 December, Rajapaksa resigned and on 16 December 2018, Wickremesinghe was reinstated as prime minister (Al Jazeera 16 Dec. 2018; NPR 17 Dec. 2018).

3. 2019 Presidential Election

According to sources, 35 candidates ran for president (Asian Tribune 18 Nov. 2019; BBC 17 Nov. 2019). Sources report that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) candidate, Gotabaya [Gotabhaya] Rajapaksa, won the November 2019 presidential election with 52.2 percent of the vote while the UNP candidate, Sajith Premadasa, got 42 percent of the votes (The Guardian 17 Nov. 2019; EIAS 28 Nov. 2019). Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he served as his defence secretary, and sources report that he is credited with ending the civil war with Tamil separatists (BBC 17 Nov. 2019; The Guardian 17 Nov. 2019). According to sources, Gotabaya Rajapaksa garnered the votes of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, while his opponent Sajith Premadasa won the vote of Tamil [who are mostly Hindus or Christians (US 25 June 2020, 1)] and Muslim minorities (US 25 June 2020, 1; The Diplomat 13 Dec. 2019; The Guardian 17 Nov. 2019). According to The Diplomat, Sri Lankans belonging to Christian communities "mostly" voted for Rajapaksa (The Diplomat 13 Dec. 2019). Sources indicate that, following the 2019 Easter bomb attacks, Rajapaksa ran his campaign with a security-oriented agenda (The Guardian 17 Nov. 2019; Reuters 16 Nov. 2019; EAIS 28 Nov. 2019). Press Trust of India (PTI), an Indian news agency, reports that more than 40 parties backed Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the election, including the following 15:

Akhila Ilangei Dravida Mahasabha, Sri Lanka Telo Party, Sri Lanka People's National Party, Janatha Sevaka Pakshaya, Eksath Janatha Jathika Pakshaya, New Democratic People's Front, Deshapremi Eksath Jathika Pakshaya, Pragathisheeli Janatha Sevaka Pakshaya, National Front, United Democratic People's Party, United Lanka People's Party, Patriotic Progressive People's Front, Democratic People's Congress, Islam Socialist Front and People's Party of Indian Origin. (PTI 5 Nov. 2019)

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to sources, the elections were generally peaceful (EIAS 28 Nov. 2019; The Guardian 17 Nov. 2019). However, sources report that there were incidents of violence on election day, such as an attack on buses transporting Muslims voters (DW 17 Nov. 2019; The Guardian 17 Nov. 2019; EIAS 28 Nov. 2019), which were stopped at a roadblock (The Guardian 17 Nov. 2019; EIAS 28 Nov. 2019). According to the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS), in the north of the country, there is a "heavy military presence and unauthorised roadblocks" intended to discourage Tamil voters (EIAS 28 Nov. 2019). The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) reports that 94 "major incidents" took place on election day, including 69 cases of intimidation, 5 cases of assaults and 3 cases of threat" (CMEV 2020, 48).

Sources report that the newly-elected president Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister (AFP 22 Nov. 2019; PTI 22 Nov. 2019). The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka indicates that the President appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as Minister of Finance, Economy and Policy Development, as well as Minister of Buddhasasana, Cultural and Religious Affairs, and Minister of Urban Development, Water Supply and Housing Facilities, while Chamal Rajapaksa [also a brother of the president (AFP 22 Nov. 2019; PTI 22 Nov. 2019)] was appointed as Minister of Mahaweli, Agriculture, Irrigation and Rural Development, as well as Minister of Internal Trade, Food Security and Consumer Welfare (Sri Lanka 27 Nov. 2019). Sources state that Gotabaya Rajapaksa also announced his intention to call a general election at the earliest possibility (AFP 22 Nov. 2019; SATP 2020; PTI 22 Nov. 2019). PTI explains that "Sri Lanka's existing parliamentary term ends next August [2020], and the Constitution allows the president to dissolve the legislature in March [2020] and go for an election" (PTI 22 Nov. 2019).

4. Post-Election Political Situation

Human Rights Watch (HRW) indicates that Sri Lankan security authorities have been "stepping up surveillance, harassment, and threats against human rights activists and journalists" since the November 2019 elections (HRW 3 Mar. 2020). Similarly, the New Humanitarian, an independent non-profit news organization specialised in humanitarian crises (The New Humanitarian n.d.), reports that rights groups have experienced "a rise in surveillance by state security forces, threats, and other measures more common during the country's … civil war" (The New Humanitarian 10 June 2020). For instance, according to the same source, families of disappeared people in the northern districts of Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya, who have been organizing a continuous sit-in protest, are reporting being "increasingly monitored and threatened by security personnel," while being pressured into agreeing to compensation for the loss of their family member, instead of obtaining a complete investigation (The New Humanitarian 10 June 2020). Amnesty International also indicates that officials from the Sri Lankan Police, including the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), State Intelligence, and the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID), also known as the Counter-Terrorism and Terrorism Investigation Division (CTID), have been visiting or summoning human rights activists in order to ask about "project activities, donors and funding information, registration and details of staff members" (Amnesty International 16 Jan. 2020). In addition, police also searched the office of a media organization, Newshub.lk, looking for [defamatory (Newshub.lk 27 Nov. 2019)] content related to the new president (EconomyNext 26 Nov. 2019; Newshub.lk 27 Nov. 2019). HRW notes that police and intelligence officers are "instil[ing] fear in rights groups" through visits to their offices during which they asked for "staff lists, home addresses, and other personal details" (HRW 3 Mar. 2020). The same source reports statements by human rights activists claiming to have experienced higher monitoring by intelligence and military officers, with one activist's organization ceasing their activities as a result (HRW 3 Mar. 2020).

According to the Colombo Telegraph, a public interest website on Sri Lankan current affairs run by exiled journalists (Colombo Telegraph n.d.), as cited by HRW, police officers investigating abuses from the Rajapaksa era have been transferred or have seen their security clearance withdrawn after the presidential elections (HRW 14 Jan. 2020). Similarly, in its report for 2019, Freedom House reports that the week after the election, "leading personnel in the Criminal Investigation Department responsible for cases against the Rajapaksa family were demoted, transferred, and banned from traveling abroad" (Freedom House 4 Mar. 2020).

According to the government's gazette, the president established a "Presidential Task Force to build a Secure Country and a Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society," that is composed of military and police officials (Sri Lanka 2 June 2020). The Defence Secretary, Retired Major General Kamal Gunaratne heads the taskforce to curb "illegal activities of social groups which are violating the law" and to fight drug trafficking (Sri Lanka 2 June 2020). According to the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), citing its Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, this is "'another act of over-reach by a government seeking to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to further expand its powers'" (ICJ 5 June 2020). The same source notes that the "task force's military and police membership follows a pattern of recent military appointments to civil administrative positions" by President Rajapaksa and that the "'[v]ague and overbroad language'" used to define its scope and powers "'could effectively criminalize expression protected under international law'" (ICJ 5 June 2020). Similarly, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), an independent and non-partisan organization that focuses primarily on issues of governance, argues that certain phrases in the description of the Task Force's mandate use a "vague language" that is "open to abuse" (CPA June 2020).

5. 2020 Legislative Elections
5.1 Electoral Campaign and Elections Delayed

On 2 March 2020, President Rajapaksa dissolved the Sri Lankan Parliament and called for legislative elections to be held on 25 April 2020 (Sri Lanka 2 Mar. 2020).The Associated Press (AP) reports that a 2015 change to the Constitution has decreased presidential power and that the president wished to amend the Constitution to strengthen his office, needing a majority of two-thirds of the Parliament seats (AP 20 Apr. 2020). The same source explains that before the Parliament dissolution, the opposition held a majority in the Parliament (AP 2 Mar. 2020). The Wire, an independent, non-for-profit media organization (The Wire n.d.), reports that during the electoral campaign, the president's party, the SLPP, argued that "their platform of a 'strong government' will not be compatible with the provisions of the 19th amendment, which put major restrictions on presidential powers and expanded the role of prime minister" and that they would change the constitution with a two-thirds majority (The Wire 5 Aug. 2020).

Sources report that on 19 March 2020, the election commission head announced that the elections would not take place on the scheduled date because of the COVID-19 pandemic (The Hindu 19 Mar. 2020; Daily News 20 Mar. 2020; Daily FT 20 Mar. 2020). According to sources, the National Election Commission used the provisions under the Parliamentary Elections Act No. 1 of 1981 (Daily News 20 Mar. 2020; Daily FT 20 Mar. 2020). Daily Financial Times (Daily FT), a daily English-language newspaper in Colombo, explains that the Parliamentary Elections Act No. 1 of 1981 "provides for the postponement of an election, where, 'due to any emergency or unforeseen circumstances' the poll for the election in any electoral district cannot be taken on the specified date" (Daily FT 20 Mar. 2020).

On 20 April 2020, AP indicated that the election commission set 20 June 2020 as the new date for the legislative elections after the president rejected the commission's suggestion to ask the Supreme Court for help in order to find a solution to a possible constitutional crisis, as the Sri Lankan Constitution requires that a dissolved Parliament must be replaced within three months (AP 20 Apr. 2020). Similarly, the Hindu, an Indian newspaper, explains that the Election Commission set 20 June 2020 as the election date after the Prime Minister and President Rajapaksa's secretary made a statement regarding the Election Commission's responsibility to choose an election date (The Hindu 21 Apr. 2020). Sources report that President Rajapaksa refused to reconvene Parliament after opposition parties [including the UNP, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) party, and the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) (Daily FT 1 May 2020)] asked him to do so (Daily FT 1 May 2020; The Hindu 1 May 2020) in order to avoid a constitutional crisis because of the absence of an in-session Parliament more than three months after its dissolution (The Hindu 1 May 2020).

Sources report that opposition parties [the Samagi Jana Balawegaya [Balavegaya] (SJB) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (EconomyNext 11 May 2020)] and civil society representatives filed several petitions at the Supreme Court seeking annulment of the Parliament dissolution and contesting the election date fixed by the Election Commission (AP 2 June 2020; The Hindu 2 June 2020). The Supreme Court rejected these petitions without providing reasons (AP 2 June 2020; The Hindu 2 June 2020). On 10 June 2020, the election commission announced that the elections would be delayed a second time and set them to take place on 5 August 2020 (Reuters 10 June 2020; AFP 10 June 2020).

According to sources, postponing the elections meant that the president governed the country without the legislative institution to check the executive's power (DW 29 May 2020; Nikkei Asian Review 30 Apr. 2020). Deutsche Welle (DW) adds that the president "has strengthened his grip on government offices by appointing former military officials to a number of key positions in ministries" (DW 29 May 2020). Similarly, International Crisis Group notes that, since President Rajapaksa's election, retired and active military officials have an "unprecedented role in governance," some of whom "are credibly alleged to have overseen serious human rights violations" toward the end of the country's civil war (International Crisis Group 29 May 2020). Sources report that the government response to COVID-19 includes military officials in different roles (International Crisis Group 29 May 2020; Nikkei Asian Review 30 Apr. 2020), such as Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, who was appointed to run the National Operation Center on Coronavirus (Nikkei Asian Review 30 Apr. 2020). International Crisis Group further adds that there were "serious legal anomalies" in the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including curfews instituted to enforce social distancing as a measure of "questionable legal validity without parliamentary approval" (International Crisis Group 29 May 2020).

5.2 Campaign and Election Day

On 27 July 2020, the CMEV published a report on "hate speech and divisive language" during the electoral campaign for the legislative elections of 2020, indicating that, because of the absence of debates on significant ethnic issues, hate speech incidence was lower at the start of the campaign, in comparison to previous elections (CMEV 27 July 2020, 2). However, the same source notes an increase of hate speech and divisive language as the race was tightening (CMEV 27 July 2020, 2). According to the report, hate speech and divisive language were more prevalent at the ground level, such as in door-to-door canvassing by opposition and larger rallies (CMEV 27 July 2020, 2). Candidates such as those from Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya (OPPP) or from the SLPP party have been campaigning on ideas that "the Sinhalese people are threatened by rising numbers of Muslims; that they need to be 'controlled'; and that Tamils are attempting to divide the country" (CMEV 27 July 2020, 3). Candidates from Akhila Ilankai Tamil Mahasabha (AITM) and Thamil Makkal Viduthai Pulikal (TMVP) had an anti-Muslim discourse, saying that Muslim voters have "'stolen' Tamil land to win votes from Tamil voters" (CMEV 27 July 2020, 3).

On the election day, 5 August 2020, the CMEV indicates having documented 301 incidents of electoral violations, including 151 incidents of illegal campaigning, 57 incidents of intimidation/influencing and 21 incidents of illegal posters or cut-out (CMEV 5 Aug. 2020, 1). According to the CMEV national coordinator, Manjula Gajanayaka, as cited by the New York Times, the election was peaceful with "fewer violations of election law than in past votes" (The New York Times 7 Aug. 2020). The New York Times reports that 71 percent of eligible voters participated in the elections (The New York Times 7 Aug. 2020).

5.3 Election Results and Cabinet Appointments

Sources report that the SLPP won 145 [of the 225 seats] in the Sri Lankan parliament and counts on the support of allies in order to reach the two-thirds majority of 150 seats needed to change the constitution (AFP 7 Aug. 2020; The New York Times 7 Aug. 2020, PTI 7 Aug. 2020). PTI indicates that in the South, with a Sinhalese majority, the party's victory margins "were [in most areas] in the high 60 per cent" (PTI 7 Aug. 2020). According to sources, Ranil Wickremesinghe's party, [the UNP], won only one seat (AFP 7 Aug. 2020; PTI 7 Aug. 2020); it had 106 seats in the previous parliament (AFP 7 Aug. 2020). The SJB party, a breakaway party from the [UNP], led by Sajith Premadasa, secured 54 seats (AFP 7 Aug. 2020; PTI 7 Aug. 2020). The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) obtained 10 seats, down from 16 seats in the previous parliament (AFP 7 Aug. 2020, PTI 7 Aug. 2020).

Sources report that on 12 August 2020, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa swore into office a new Cabinet that includes two of his brothers and one nephew (AP 12 Aug. 2020; PTI 12 Aug. 2020). Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was assigned the Finance, Urban Development and Buddhist affairs ministries, while the president's eldest brother, Chamal Rajapksa became the minister of Irrigation (PTI 12 Aug. 2020; AP 12 Aug. 2020). [Mahinda Rajapaksa's son (PTI 12 Aug. 2020)] Namal Rajapaksa was appointed as youth and sports minister (PTI 12 Aug. 2020; AP 12 Aug. 2020). Gotabaya Rajapaksa also appointed his lawyer, Ali Sabry, as justice minister (AP 12 Aug. 2020)

6. Main Political Parties During the 2020 Legislative Elections
6.1 United National Party (UNP)

The UNP was founded in 1946 (Political Handbook of the World 2019, 16; Verité Research Nov. 2017, 3). The Political Handbook of the World 2018-2019 describes the party as democratic-socialist that "advocates a moderate line and the avoidance of a narrowly 'communal' posture" (Political Handbook of the World 2019, 16). In a report on Sri Lankan political parties published in 2017, Verité Research indicates that the party was founded on a "non-communal" basis, with a "pro-western anti-communist ideology" (Verité Research Nov. 2017, 3). The same source indicates that the UNP has a market-oriented ideology, but that it has "several key welfare initiatives" to its credit (Verité Research Nov. 2017, 4).

Sources report that the UNP was part of the National Democratic Front (NDF) coalition that presented Maithripala Sirisena as a candidate for the 2015 presidential election (Political Handbook of the World 2019, 16; Verité Research Nov. 2017, 16). According to sources, during the 2015 legislative elections, the UNP was part of an informal coalition, the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) that won 106 seats (Political Handbook of the World 2019, 16; Verité Research Nov. 2017, 7). The UNP then formed a coalition government with a part of the SLFP (Political Handbook of the World 2019, 16; Verité Research Nov. 2017, 7).

The CPA indicates that since the 2019 presidential election, the UNP has faced internal divisions, such as "choosing the Opposition Leader and Party Leader, plans for contesting the Parliamentary Election, the alliance and symbol" (CPA Mar. 2020, 5). The same source further adds that a policy shift, distancing the party from its traditional electoral base, appeared during the 2019 elections where the party candidate, Sajith Premadasa, was "more aligned with aspects of Sinhala nationalist ideology and increased social welfare" (CPA Mar. 2020. 5). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

6.1.1 UNP Split and a New Alliance: Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB)

PTI reported on 2 March 2020, that, in anticipation of election call, a UNP faction led by Sajith Premadasa formed a new alliance, [SJB (United People's Force)], with smaller Muslim and Tamil parties traditionally allied with the UNP (PTI 2 Mar. 2020). EconomyNext, an economic, financial and political news service focusing on Sri Lanka and based in Colombo (EconomyNext n.d.), indicates that 12 parties joined the alliance on 2 March 2020 which includes "the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the Tamil Progressive Alliance, Rishad Bathiudeen's group and two break-away parties from the [SLFP] as well as the United Left Front," among others (EconomyNext 2 Mar. 2020). Other sources specify that the new alliance was a renamed reconstitution of the Ape Jathika Peramuna party (Newstube.lk 10 Feb. 2020; Daily Mirror 12 Feb. 2020). PTI indicates that the new alliance was born out of the impossibility to "iron out internal differences" within the UNP and that the UNP leader and former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was not present at the new alliance's launching event (PTI 2 Mar. 2020). Similarly, EconomyNext notes the absence of Wickremesinghe at the event (EconomyNext 2 Mar. 2020).

According to PTI, the main faction of the UNP is also officially contesting the legislative election led by former prime minister Ramil Wickremesinghe, in a contrary move to the UNP working committee's approval of the coalition formed under Premadasa’s leadership (PTI 2 Mar. 2020). Similarly, News First, a news website in English, Sinhala and Tamil, indicates that, as two separate entities, the SJB and the UNP were to run in the 2020 general elections (News First 10 June 2020).

6.2 Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (People's Party) (SLPP)

Sources indicates that the SLPP was formed in 2016 (The Hindu 10 Oct. 2019; FP 11 Aug. 2020). The Daily Mirror, a Sri Lankan newspaper, specifies that SLPP is the new name of the political party registered under Our Sri Lanka Freedom Front (Ape Sri Lanka Nidahas Peramuna) and that Professor G.L. Peiris was named as the new chairman (Daily Mirror 2 Nov. 2016).

According to sources, the party was created by Mahinda Rajapaksa's supporters (FP 11 Aug. 2020; PTI 11 Nov. 2018) as a "platform for his re-entry into politics" (PTI 11 Nov. 2018). Sources report that Mahinda Rajapaksa joined the SLPP on 11 November 2018, during the constitutional crisis, after President Sirisena dissolved the Parliament on (Reuters 11 Nov. 2018; PTI 11 Nov. 2018).

The Economist notes that the party puts forward "a hardline approach, favouring Sinhalese nationalism" (The Economist 23 July 2020). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

In the February 2018 local elections, the SLPP won 40 percent of the votes, leaving the UNP in second place and the SLFP in third (The Hindu 10 Oct. 2019). According to the Daily News, an English-language newspaper in Sri Lanka, the SLPP won the elections in 231 of the 340 local councils, while the UNP won in 34 councils, and 9 councils were won by the SLFP (Daily News 18 June 2020).

6.2.1 Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Alliance/Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Sandanaya (SLNPA/SLNPS)

Sources report that on 17 February 2020, the SLPP, the SLFP, the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, the Sri Lankan Communist Party, the Sama Samaja [Samasamaja] Party, the Democratic Leftist Front, the National Freedom Front, the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party, the Desha Vimukthi Janatha Party and the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya formally formed the SLNPA/SLNPS (News First 17 Feb. 2020; Europa n.d.).

6.3 Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)

Sources report that the SLFP was founded in 1951 (Political Handbook of the World 2019; Verité Research Nov. 2017, 11). Verité Research indicates that the party had a Sinhala nationalist and socialist platform during the 1956 elections (Verité Research Nov. 2017, 11), while Political Handbook of the World notes that initially, the party advocated "a neutralist foreign policy and the progressive nationalization of industry" (Political Handbook of the World 2019, 20).

Daily News explains that, after the 2015 elections, the party was divided in two factions: one that participated in the government [until Mr. Sirisena decided to pull the SLFP out of it in October 2018] and another, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, that remained in the opposition (Daily News 18 June 2020). Verité indicated, in 2017, that, as a president, Sirisena had "often criticised the UNP-led privatisation of state-owned enterprises" (Verité Research Nov. 2017, 13). Similarly, the International Crisis Group indicates that during the UNP-SLFP coalition government, headed jointly by Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, they had "regularly and publicly reversed each other's policies – notably on the economy and ethnic reconciliation" (International Crisis Group 31 Oct. 2018).

During the 2019 presidential election, the SLFP did not run a candidate, but instead backed Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the SLPP (The Hindu 10 Oct. 2019; Frontline 8 Nov. 2019), for the first time in its history (The Hindu 10 Oct. 2019). The Daily News indicates that, in the 2020 legislative elections, the SLFP is part of a coalition led by the SLPP, instead of "being the main party leading the coalition" (Daily News 18 June 2020). Other sources similarly report that on 17 February 2020, the SLFP formed an alliance with the SLPP in anticipation of the legislative election (The Hindu 18 Feb. 2020; The Morning 17 Feb. 2020), registering the coalition as the Sri Lanka Freedom People's Alliance (SLNPS) (The Morning 17 Feb. 2020).

6.4 Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)

Founded in 1964, the JVP is a Marxist-Leninist party with a "strong commitment to the welfare state" against "capitalist ideals and neoliberal economic policies" (Verité Research Nov. 2017, 22). Verité Research indicates that between 1994 and 2008, under the leadership of Somawansa Amarasinghe, the party "assumed an increasingly Sinhala nationalist position" (Verité Research Nov. 2017, 22), while in the post-war period, it has supported the establishment of a truth and reconciliation committee (Verité Research Nov. 2017, 22). However, the Economist reports that the party is against "any form of political devolution for the Tamils" (The Economist 23 July 2020). According to the party's website, the political bureau includes Anura Dissanayake (party leader), Tilvin Silva (General Secretary), Vijitha Herath (Information Secretary), K.D. Lalkantha (Administrative Secretary), Bimal Ratnayaka (National Organizer) and Sunil Handunneththi (Financial Secretary) (JVP n.d.). According to News First, a faction of JVP members were contesting the election on the Frontline Socialist Party list (News First 10 June 2020).

6.5 Tamil National Alliance (TNA)

The TNA is an alliance between the Sri Lanka Tamil Government Party (Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi, ITAK), the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Ealam (PLOTE) party, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Organization (EPRLF) (Verité Research Nov. 2017, 18). According to the Economist, between 2015 and 2019, under the UNP-SLFP government, the TNA was the largest opposition alliance, but "it rarely opposed the government and, on many occasions, supported its policy initiatives" (The Economist 23 July 2020). The coalition secured 16 seats in the 2015 election and was recognized as the official chief opposition when the SLFP-UNP coalition government was formed (Verité Research Nov. 2017, 18-19).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 7 August 2020. "Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa Brothers Strengthen Grip in Landslide Election Win." [Accessed 7 Aug. 2020]

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 10 June 2020. "Sri Lanka to Hold Coronavirus-Delayed Parliamentary Polls on August 5." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 22 November 2019. "Sri Lanka President to Call Snap Parliamentary Election in March." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Al Jazeera. 16 December 2018. Reporting contributions by Rathindra Kuruwita. "Sri Lanka: PM Wickremesinghe Reinstated After Weeks of Crisis." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Al Jazeera. 13 December 2018. Zaheena Rasheed and Rathindra Kuruwita. "Sri Lanka's Supreme Court Overturns Sacking of Parliament." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Al Jazeera. 2 November 2018. Zaheena Rasheed and Rathindra Kuruwita. "UN Urges Sri Lanka to Recall Parliament Amid Bribery Claims." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Amnesty International. 16 January 2020. "Attacks on Human Rights Organisations, Media Organisations and Journalists in Sri Lanka." (ASA 37/1678/2020) [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Asia Society. 4 December 2018. "A South Asian 'Game of Thrones:' Behind Sri Lanka's Political Crisis." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Asian Tribune. 18 November 2019. K. T. Rajasingham. "In a Clearly Emerged Ethnic Division - Gotabhaya Rajapaksa Declared Winner." (Factiva) [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Associated Press (AP). 12 August 2020. Bharatha Mallawarachi. "3 Rajapaksas Sworn into New Sri Lanka Cabinet After Election." [Accessed 17 Aug. 2020]

Associated Press (AP). 2 June 2020. "Sri Lanka's Supreme Court Won't Annul Parliament Dissolution." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Associated Press (AP). 20 April 2020. Krishan Francis. "Sri Lanka Election Set for June 20, Ending Possible Crisis." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Associated Press (AP). 2 March 2020. "Sri Lankan Parliament Dissolved, Elections Set for April." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Associated Press (AP). 26 October 2018. Bharatha Mallawarachi. "Sri Lanka President Sacks Prime Minister, Appoints Strongman." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Australia. 4 November 2019. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). DFAT Country Information Report: Sri Lanka. [Accessed 31 July 2020]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 17 November 2019. "Sri Lanka Election: Wartime Defence Chief Rajapaksa Wins Presidency." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV). 5 August 2020. Parliamentary General Election 2020 – Election Day Communiqué 3. [Accessed 7 Aug. 2020]

Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV). 27 July 2020. Hate Speech and Divisive Language During the Parliamentary General Election 2020. [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV). 2020. Manjula Gajanayake, et al. 2019 Sri Lankan Presidential Election: Election Observation Report. [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA). June 2020. The Appointment of the Two Presidential Task Forces. [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA). March 2020. Bhavani Fonseka and Uvin Dissanayake. Sri Lanka's Recent Political Challenges & Prospects for the Future. [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Colombo Telegraph. N.d. About page. [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020]

Daily Financial Times (Daily FT). 1 May 2020. "President Will Not Reconvene P’ment: President’s Secy." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Daily Financial Times (Daily FT). 20 March 2020. "Election Postponed over COVID-19 Impact." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Daily Mirror. 12 February 2020. " Premadasa-Faction Forms Samagi Jana Balawegaya." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Daily Mirror. 3 November 2018. "Attempts to Lure MPs: UNP Releases Audio Recording." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Daily Mirror. 2 November 2016. "GL Named Chairman of Podujana Peramuna." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Daily News. 18 June 2020. Lakdev Liyanagama. "UNP, SJB Conflict Ahead of Crucial Polls." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Daily News. 20 March 2020. Lahiru Fernando. "Polls Postponed." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Deutsche Welle (DW). 29 May 2020. Seerat Chabba. "Coronavirus Keeps Sri Lanka Without a Functioning Parliament." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Deutsche Welle (DW). 17 November 2019. "Sri Lanka Election: Opposition Candidate Rajapaksa Declared Winner." [Accessed 24 July 2020]

The Diplomat. 13 December 2019. Bahauddin Foizee. "Sri Lanka's Election Results Reveal a Divided Country." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

The Diplomat. 7 January 2019. Umesh Moramudali. "Sri Lanka: After the Crisis, What Next?" [Accessed 31 July 2020]

The Diplomat. N.d. "The Diplomat." [Accessed 17 Aug. 2020]

The Economist. 23 July 2020. "Sri Lanka: Political Forces at a Glance." (Factiva) [Accessed 31 July 2020]

EconomyNext. 11 May 2020. Arjuna Ranawana. "Supreme Court to Examine FR Petitions on Elections Next Week." [Accessed 17 Aug. 2020]

EconomyNext. 2 March 2020. "Ranil Boycotts UNP Alliance Launch." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

EconomyNext. 26 November 2019. "Police Search Newshub.lk Newsroom." [Accessed 17 Aug. 2020]

EconomyNext. N.d. "About EconomyNext." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Europa World Online. N.d. "Sri Lanka People's Freedom Alliance (SLPFA) (Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Sandanaya)." London: Routledge. [Accessed 17 Aug. 2020]

European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS). 28 November 2019. Deshika Elapata. "Assessment of the 2019 Presidential Elections in Sri Lanka." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Foreign Policy (FP). 11 August 2020. Neil Devotta. "Rajapaksa, in a Landslide." [Accessed 17 Aug. 2020]

Freedom House. 4 March 2020. "Sri Lanka." Freedom in the World 2019. [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Freedom House. 15 November 2018. "Sri Lanka's Democracy Hangs in the Balance After 'Coup Attempt'." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Frontline. 8 November 2019. R.K. Radhakrishnan. "Sri Lanka Presidential Election: Past in the Present." [Accessed 17 Aug. 2020]

The Guardian. 17 November 2019. Hannah Ellis-Petersen. "Gotabaya Rajapaksa Elected President of Sri Lanka." [Accessed 27 July 2020]

The Hindu. 2 June 2020. Meera Srinivasan. "Sri Lanka's Top Court Dismisses Petitions Challenging Poll Date." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

The Hindu. 1 May 2020. Meera Srinivasan. "Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa Rules Out Reconvening Parliament." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

The Hindu. 21 April 2020. Meera Srinivasan. "Sri Lanka EC Announces Polls on June 20; Opposition Voices Concern." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

The Hindu. 19 March 2020. Meera Srinivasan. "Sri Lanka Parliamentary Elections Postponed." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

The Hindu. 18 February 2020. "Maithripala Sirisena Joins the Rajapaksas in Pre-Poll Alliance in Sri Lanka." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

The Hindu. 10 October 2019. Meera Srinivasan. "Analysis. Is This the Beginning of the Political Demise of Sri Lanka Freedom Party?" [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 3 March 2020. "Sri Lanka: Security Agencies Shutting Down Civic Space Rights Activists, Journalists Facing Surveillance, Threats." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 14 January 2020. "Sri Lanka: Human Rights Gains in Grave Peril New Administration Poses Threat to Activists, Media, Victims Seeking Justice." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

The Indian Express. 13 December 2018. "Sri Lankan Parliament Dissolution 'Unconstitutional', Rules Supreme Court." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). 5 June 2020. "Sri Lanka: Newly Constituted Presidential Task Force Threatens Rule of Law." [Accessed 17 July 2020]

International Crisis Group. 29 May 2020. Alan Keenan. "Sri Lanka's Other COVID-19 Crisis: Is Parliamentary Democracy at Risk?" [Accessed 31 July 2020]

International Crisis Group. 31 October 2018. "Sri Lanka: Stepping Back from a Constitutional Crisis." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). N.d. Political Bureau. [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Minority Rights Group International (MRG). 2018. "Sri Lanka." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

The Morning. 17 February 2020. "SLFP-SLPP Alliance Registered." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

National Public Radio (NPR). 17 December 2018. Colin Dwyer. "Sri Lankan Prime Minister Celebrates His Reinstatement as 'Triumph of Democracy'." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

News First. 10 June 2020. "Sri Lanka’s Parliamentary Elections Fixed for August 5." [Accessed 7 Aug. 2020]

News First. 17 February 2020. "Sri Lanka Freedom People's Alliance Takes Shape." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Newshub.lk. 27 November 2019. "Why Was Newhub.lk Frisked by Police?" [Accessed 17 Aug. 2020]

NewsTube.lk. 10 February 2020. "Sajith's New Alliance to be Named 'Samagi Jana Balawegaya." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

The New York Times. 7 August 2020. Maria Abi-Habib. "Sri Lanka Election Hands Rajapaksa Family a Bigger Slice of Control." [Accessed 7 Aug. 2020]

The New Humanitarian. 10 June 2020. "For Sri Lanka's Activists, a 'State of Fear' Resurfaces." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

The New Humanitarian. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Nikkei Asian Review. 30 April 2020. "Pandemic Helps Sri Lanka President Bypass Dissolved Parliament." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Political Handbook of the World 2018-2019. 2019. "Sri Lanka." Edited by Tom Lansford. Washington, DC: CQ Press. [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Press Trust of India. 12 August 2020. "Rajapaksa Family Dominates Sri Lanka's New Cabinet." [Accessed 17 Aug. 2020]

Press Trust of India (PTI). 7 August 2020. "Mahinda Rajapaksa's SLPP Registers Landslide Victory in Sri Lanka's Parliamentary Polls." [Accessed 17 Aug. 2020]

Press Trust of India (PTI). 2 March 2020. "UNP Faction Led by Premadasa Announces New Alliance in Sri Lanka." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Press Trust of India (PTI). 22 November 2019. "Lanka President Rajapaksa Pledges Snap Election Soon, Appoints Interim Cabinet." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Press Trust of India (PTI). 5 November 2019. "Sri Lanka Polls: 15 More Political Parties Back SLPP's Gotabaya Rajapaksa." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Press Trust of India (PTI). 11 November 2018. "Lanka Crisis: Rajapaksa Ends 50-Year Association with Sirisena's Party, Joins Newly-Formed SLPP." [Accessed 17 Aug. 2020]

Reuters. 10 June 2020. "Sri Lanka Delays General Election for Second Time, Sets August 5 as New Date." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Reuters. 16 November 2019. Sanjeev Miglani and Shihar Aneez. "Sri Lanka Strongman Rajapaksa Wins presidency by Big Margin." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Reuters. 8 January 2015. Shihar Aneez and John Chalmers. "Sri Lanka's Strongman President Voted Out After a Decade." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). 2020. "Sri Lanka: Assessment– 2020." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Sri Lanka. 2 June 2020. "Proclamations & C., by the President." The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. No. 2178/18. [Accessed 18 Aug. 2020]

Sri Lanka. 2 March 2020. "Part 1: Section (I) – General. Proclamations & C., by the President." The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. No. 2165/8. [Accessed 17 Aug. 2020]

Sri Lanka. 27 November 2019. "Appointment & C., by the President." The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. No. 2151/38. [Accessed 17 Aug. 2020]

Time. 29 October 2018. Eli Meixler. "Sri Lanka Is Engulfed in a 'Constitutional Crisis.' Here's What to Know." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

United Nations (UN). 26 August 2019. Un High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). "Preliminary Findings of Country Visit to Sri Lanka by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

United States (US). 25 June 2020. Congressional Research Service. "Sri Lanka." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Verité Research. November 2017. Mapping Sri Lanka's Political Parties: Actors and Evolutions. [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Verité Research. N.d. Home page. [Accessed 31 July 2020]

Voice of America (VOA). 13 December 2018. "Sri Lanka's High Court Declares President's Dissolution of Parliament Unconstitutional." [Accessed 31 July 2020]

The Wire. 5 August 2020. Devirupa Mitra. "Explainer: Why Sri Lanka's Election Results Are Crucial for the Rajapaksas." [Accessed 7 Aug. 2020]

The Wire. N.d. "About The Wire." [Accessed 7 Aug. 2020]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Ceylon Today; ecoi.net; International Foundation for Electoral Systems; Global Voices; Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses; Radio France internationale; UN – Refworld; US – Department of State.