Sri Lanka Update 14 July, 2022

In the space of one week Sri Lanka has turned into a real-life reality TV show. If the situation weren’t so dire for Sri Lankans, I’d dare label the situation there as quality entertainment. Unfortunately, living conditions on the island continue to deteriorate as the political situation grows increasingly muddled. Even more alarming is the frail state of Sri Lankan society. Make no mistake about it, the island nation is on the verge of a complete collapse.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s aircraft has landed in Singapore. After departing Colombo, Rajapaksa flew to the Maldives before winging his way east. There are reports surfacing that Jeddah will be his next destination. The purpose behind his tour could be to garner international support for an effort to remain in power. The president has not submitted a letter of resignation as promised, meaning he is still the rightful leader of Sri Lanka. Parliament is moving to strip him of his presidential powers though. The appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president only made the situation worse and incensed protesters. His office was taken over by protesters, leading to a number of clashes between security forces and civilians. A state of emergency was declared, as well as a curfew. Right now, Colombo has settled into an uneasy calm. Protesters have withdrawn from the presidential residence and Wickremesinghe’s office but remain in the president’s office.

Until the political situation stabilizes, negotiations between the government and the IMF are on hold. An agreement with the IMF is essential to lay the groundwork for an economic recovery. However, as it stands right now, there will be no progress made on this front until the vacant presidency seat is filled and calm returns to Sri Lanka. It could be a long time until that happens as the island nation remains in turmoil without an end in sight.

Sri Lanka Is Coming Into Play

Uncertainty is growing in Sri Lanka as the nation’s top political leaders have not been heard from in the aftermath of Saturday’s takeover of the presidential residence and offices. The prime minister’s own residence was overrun by protesters as well. Since Saturday’s unrest, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not been heard from. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinge has gone radio silent too. There have been reports the president plans to resign on Wednesday, however Rajapaksa has not addressed the reports or his intentions. At the present time it is unclear who, if anyone, is leading Sri Lanka. The longer Rajapaksa remains incommunicado, the greater the chances are of a vacuum forming in Colombo. Opposition leaders are trying to determine if Rajapaksa will in fact resign on Wednesday, and if so, what will the nation’s new government look like. At first glance the speaker of parliament appears to be the probable choice to lead the nation after Rajapaksa’s departure, yet it is unclear what meetings are going on behind the scenes.

Events over the weekend make it clear Sri Lanka is just about in play on the geopolitical chessboard. Whoever takes the reins of power in Colombo next will be faced with the daunting task of preventing the country from careening off the cliff into economic oblivion once and for all. To stop this from happening, large amounts of financial and material aid will be needed. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, its moment of need comes in the midst of global instability brought on by the Ukraine war and subsequent surging energy prices. India, which has been Sri Lanka’s guardian angel of sorts for a long time, has already contributed billions of dollars in an effort to keep the nation afloat. Yet more funds, fuel and food will be needed in the coming weeks and months.

Should India fail to stabilize Sri Lanka, the door will open for China to move in and attempt to save Sri Lanka while at the same time dragging the island nation inexorably into Beijing’s sphere of influence. Attention should be locked on Sri Lanka and the entire Indian Ocean region in the upcoming week. Things are happening there which will have a significant effect on regional security as well as the growing India-China rivalry.

Tunisia’s Political Crisis

Tunisian President Kais Saied made assurances on Friday that he will not adopt dictatorial powers in the wake of his dismissal of Tunisia’s parliament for 30 days and the sacking of the prime minister last Sunday. In the wake of these actions, Tunisia is experiencing a political crisis that threatens to unravel the gains made in the 2010-11 Tunisian Revolution. Saied’s moves on Sunday have brought on international scrutiny as critics and leaders of major political parties in Tunisia have accused the president of staging a coup. Concerns about the future of Tunisian democracy and the rights of its people increased Friday following the arrest of a parliamentarian and the investigation of leading opposition figures who took part in anti-Saied demonstrations earlier this week. A second member of parliament was arrested later in the day. Saied has removed the immunity of parliament members, making all of them vulnerable to arrest and imprisonment.

Saied’s moves to assume total executive control of the government apparently enjoys wide popular support. Tunisia is a nation which has dealt with corruption, economic stagnation and political deadlock for years. This situation has been worsened by a large surge in COVID-19 cases this year, essentially making a bad situation even worse. Although Tunisia is in the midst of a political crisis there have been no indications of unrest aside from Monday’s protest outside of the now-closed parliament building.

Nevertheless, there is growing concern outside of the country that Saied’s actions are unconstitutional and threaten Tunisia’s democracy. In order to temper these concerns and accusations, Saied needs to follow up his assurances with firm actions that demonstrate he is not crafting a dictatorship in Tunis.

Hungary’s Parliament Gives Orban Absolute Power

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Today in Budapest the National Assembly, which is Hungary’s parliamentary body, approved the government’s request for the power to rule by decree for an indefinite period of time. The new legislation gives extraordinary powers to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, effectively placing him in sole command of Hungary with absolutely no oversight. The move was made to give the government all of the necessary tools to effectively combat COVID-19. Many nations across Europe and other parts of the world have allowed their governments to assume emergency powers in the pandemic, but none have taken a step as drastic as Hungary has. The National Assembly has essentially handed Orban the keys to the kingdom without any assurances he will give them back when the pandemic comes to an end.

The new legislation extends the present state of emergency now in effect. It lays the foundation for jail terms of up to five years on individuals, and organizations hindering measures to curb the spread of the virus or spreading false information that could upset people or hinder the fight against the virus. Human Rights groups, and opposition parties inside Hungary fear Orban will use this to neutralize domestic journalists and media outlets opposing the Orban government.

The legislation also gives Orban the power to bypass parliament when making decisions, eliminating the body’s ability to act as a check on possible abuses of power Orban. The Constitutional Court will retain the power to review government actions, however, the court is filled with justices loyal to Orban, so its ability to provide objective oversight is questionable.

Even though Orban and his allies have promised the emergency measures are temporary and will pose no threat to democracy in Hungary, his opponents inside of the country, and across Europe aren’t so sure. The European Union has not responded to events in Hungary today, and given the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, it could be some time before that happens.

On a final note, what has taken place in Hungary is a textbook example of what was discussed in the previous blog post. Actions taken during the pandemic will certainly produce far reaching consequences once things return to normal, whether leaders, and citizens realize it or not.

Canadian Elections: Trudeau Holds On

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I haven’t talked much about our friends to the north in this blog, but tonight I’d like to make an exception. Canadian news media is now projecting that Justin Trudeau will remain as Canada’s prime minister, and the Liberal Party will remain in power as the results of the Canadian Federal Election come in. Polls taken in the days before the election suggested the elections would be close and Conservatives, with their leader Andrew Sheer, might be able to assume control of the government. As it stands right now, that doesn’t appear likely to happen.

Trudeau is safe, although its not yet clear if Liberals will form a minority or majority government. Again, as it stands right now, a minority government seems more likely. This scenario will leave Trudeau in a far weaker position, and needing the support of other left-leaning political parties to push legislation through. When the election results become more concrete, a better picture of the current political situation in Canada will develop.

However it goes, this election will have little effect on Canada’s geopolitical stature. Truth be told, the Trudeau government’s actions abroad have resulted in a minimal net gain for Canada, except for a handful of good soundbites.

Perhaps later in the week, as it becomes clear what direction the new Canadian government will be going in, I’ll look at the future of Canada’s military, and geopolitical agendas.