Were Local Politics or Geopolitical Rivalries Behind Sri Lanka’s Recent Coup Crisis?

Were Local Politics or Geopolitical Rivalries Behind Sri Lanka’s Recent Coup Crisis?
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, with his Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickremesinghe, at a meeting in New Delhi before Wickremesinghe was ousted from his post, Oct. 20, 2018 (AP photo).

Sri Lanka recently emerged from a dangerous political crisis with its democracy and constitution miraculously intact. President Maithripala Sirisena’s attempted coup, in which he violated the constitution by replacing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with his bitter rival and presidential predecessor, Mahinda Rajapjaksa, was overturned thanks to Sri Lanka’s defiant Parliament, steadfast judiciary, a vigilant international community and a resilient civil society.

The failed coup revealed Sri Lanka’s institutions to be sneakily strong, but as it barreled along, international and domestic watchers speculated about the nefarious role foreign actors may have played—especially India and China, which have long projected power in Colombo. The wariness about foreign influence is understandable given the Sri Lankan government’s past experience and the lead up to this crisis.

One of the reasons people read India-China competition into the coup’s script was because of the personalities involved and what happened during the 2015 presidential election. The world witnessed Sri Lanka’s landmark presidential vote that year through the lens of a rivalry between New Delhi and Beijing for influence across South Asia. The incumbent Rajapaksa, strongly backed by Beijing, suffered a stunning and unlikely defeat from the hands of his former party member and colleague Sirisena, who ran an explicitly anti-China campaign.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.