US concerned by Sri Lanka snap polls

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Washington, Nov 10:  The United States voiced concern Saturday after Sri Lanka’s president ordered snap elections, as lawmakers warned that US aid was in question.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who two weeks ago sparked a crisis by sacking the prime minister and installing former authoritarian leader Mahinda Rajapakse in his place, signed a decree for elections to be held January 5, nearly two years ahead of schedule.

“The US is deeply concerned by news the Sri Lanka parliament will be dissolved, further deepening the political crisis,” the US State Department said in a statement on Twitter.

“As a committed partner of Sri Lanka, we believe democratic institutions and processes need to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity,” it said.

The incoming head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee warned Sirisena he was jeopardizing US assistance including a package under discussion through the Millennium Challenge Cooperation, which supports countries that observe democratic norms.

“Unfortunately, we fear that recent actions, if not corrected, will threaten your country’s democratic development and derail the progress made in recent years,” said the letter to Sirisena.

It was signed by three lawmakers including Representative Eliot Engel, who is set to take charge of the House committee following the Democratic Party’s election victory.

Sri Lanka’s relations with the West have warmed significantly since the 2015 electoral defeat of Rajapakse, who as president crushed the long-running Tamil Tiger insurgency.

He refused to acknowledge any human rights abuses in the final campaign, in which rights groups say up to 40,000 civilians died.

But Rajapakse is short of votes in parliament to return to power as prime minister and the sacked, Western-friendly premier, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has refused to back down.

An ally of Wickremesinghe has accused China of financing defections toward Rajapakse, who has pursued close cooperation with Beijing. China has denied the allegations.

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