The Past and the Present in the (Re)Constitution of the State

By Asanga Welikala and Roshan de Silva-Wijeyeratne

The election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in November 2019 marked the beginning of a new era of a Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist ascendancy in Sri Lanka. The Covid-19 pandemic provided an early opportunity for the government to establish an authoritarian governing style, helped by Parliament standing dissolved, and the Supreme Court’s refusal to subject the government to the constitution. In the delayed parliamentary election earlier in August, the government and its allies sought and obtained a two-thirds majority mandate. This mandate describes not merely the electoral success of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the political dominance of the Rajapaksa government for the foreseeable future. It denotes a more fundamental and wider cultural realignment of Sri Lankan politics in favour of a new nationalist elite that seeks to reshape the form and content of the Sri Lankan state. Accordingly, in the President’s statement of government policy to the new Parliament, it was made clear that the two-thirds majority will be deployed to, both, introduce a set of immediate constitutional changes, as well as to consider a new constitution later.

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