As the next presidential election approaches, the Sri Lanka Podu Peramuna (SLPP) is trying to reassemble itself and face the electorate with renewed vigour.

The SLPP’s fragmented pieces are unlikely to give impetus to a dwindling political outfit which is on the decline along with the Rajapaksa clan.

Udayanga Weeratunga, a relative and newfound Rajapaksa family spokesperson for the SLPP, is vocal about the SLPP not supporting the candidature of Ranil Wickremesinghe in the next presidential election. Weeratunga has stated that the SLPP will not back Wickremesinghe in the next election due to his alleged mismanagement of the country’s economy. He believes the SLPP should be looking for a more suitable candidate who can help turn the country’s economy around. Udayanga already has a case against him for the alleged embezzlement of state funds to procure MiG-27 fighter jets from Ukraine and was remanded on his arrival in the country. No doubt he will be called upon to provide explanations if the SLPP government slips out of power. Prior to assessing Udayanga’s political ability and acumen, it is worthwhile examining his deeds as a political schemer.

Udayanga’s words are far from the truth, given the current political landscape of the country. People can see rapid erosion and alienation from the SLPP camp because they don’t chart a promising future for the country. The people appear to be fed up with the Rajapaksa mantra chanted by Udayanga, as if the name commands high stakes in the political realm of the country.

Wickremesinghe will benefit from complete separation from the SLPP, despite their efforts to highlight their political strength in the hinterlands. As a result of running through the country’s financial reserves mostly for personal gain, the SLPP and Rajapaksas are considered spent forces.

The Rajapaksas need Wickremesinghe more than Wickremesinghe needs them, pointed out one political analyst. That is why they are supporting Wickremesinghe in Parliament despite his attempts to undermine the very foundation of the SLPP. Udayanga’s rhetoric is just passing remarks; looking at his obsolete credentials, he cannot be considered a man of substance.

It is also imperative to inquire into Udayanga’s past deeds and background and his name which has gone down in infamy for his alleged involvement in the Mig deal during the civil strife with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Now that he is scot-free under the Rajapaksa clan’s aegis, Udayanga has become a Rajapaksa dummy, holding a brief for them to revive their fortunes. On Wednesday, the magistrate’s court temporarily lifted his travel ban.

If Sri Lankans are so foolish as to give a new lease of life to an already dead political body like the Rajapaksas, it is best assured that Sri Lanka will have no future as expected by the people.

Although Rajapaksa’s cousin Udayanga painted a bleak picture, Ranil Wickremesinghe is not alone in the fray. Talks are underway for a new alliance, most likely with the Sajith Premadasa-led Samagi Jana Balawegaya. The deal is that Ranil Wickremesinghe should make Premadasa Prime Minister if he clinches the 2024 presidency. This deal has been met with some opposition from other members of Wickremesinghe’s party and Sajith’s party as well. There is also speculation that the alliance could further fragment the already divided political landscape in Sri Lanka.

Nevertheless, machinations and political manoeuvres by Wickremesinghe will put him somewhere closer to the driving seat for the next five years, beginning in late 2024.

Though different opinions are afloat, analysts believe that both the SJB and the UNP will be comfortable since most of the members and parliamentarians in the SJB were formerly loyal to Wickremesinghe when they were members of the UNP.

There are no hard-and-fast rules when forming an alliance; they are more for the convenience of everyone involved. Former UNPers make up the majority of members.

The UNP-SJB alliance may appear more realistic and pragmatic, but it would also force the SLPP to do some soul-searching for their past actions and irreversible mistakes.

Despite all the political manoeuvres, people remain disillusioned with the current system, which fails to bring relief regarding the cost of living. Nevertheless, in spite of the belief that this is the ideal time to listen to the woes of the people, the time remaining before the election is too short for any government to act pragmatically in order to improve the lives of its people since they suspect their bona fides are mere election gimmicks.

The government is keen to reduce the burden on the people, but it is also equally mindful of the IMF review meeting which will be held shortly. It is likely that prior to the IMF review meeting, China will make some commitment to help Sri Lanka get over the recurring economic crisis.

The Chinese move received wide coverage in the Indian media. It said that cash-strapped Sri Lanka is likely to get help from its largest bilateral creditor, China, ahead of the IMF’s bailout plan. According to the PTI news agency report, China has assured the island nation it will address the debt challenges before it finalises the external and domestic debt restructuring of $41 billion by September.

“China has always been Sri Lanka’s reliable strategic partner and appreciates that Sri Lanka has always been friendly to China and has stood by China on issues related to its core interests,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.

Crisis-ridden Sri Lanka is negotiating with its external creditors to meet the IMF’s conditions for its first review from September 11–19. The Washington-based lender approved a nearly $3 billion bailout for Sri Lanka in March of this year.

The country should agree with all its external creditors by next month on the programme to restructure its $41 billion debt.

The first review will consider the programme’s performance until end-June and, if approved by both the staff and the executive board, would allow a disbursement of around $338 million to Sri Lanka. It is against this backdrop that China sought permission from Colombo to dock Shi Yan 6, a research vessel, in Colombo and then in the Chinese-built Hambantota port. The Chinese state broadcaster CGTN calls the Shi Yan 6 a “scientific research vessel” crewed by 60 and carries out oceanography, marine geology, and marine ecology tests.

India has already raised its concerns, and the Indian media has referred back to the assurance given by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that Sri Lanka was sensitive to Indian security concerns.

Last year too, India had to go through an unpleasant phase in Indo-Lanka relations and raised concerns regarding the Chinese research vessel (spacecraft tacking vessel) Yuan Wang 5 in the Indian Ocean. India said it was a spy ship.

After Yuan Wang 5, now China wants Shi Yan 6 to dock in the Colombo and Hambantota ports, but it has yet to give a date.

Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said Beijing had sought permission for the Shi Yan 6 to dock but that no date had been set and the request was being processed.

India is suspicious of China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence on Sri Lanka, seeing both as firmly within its sphere of influence. The latest move by the Chinese may lead to a diplomatic flashpoint between Sri Lanka and India, given India’s rivalry with China over supremacy in the Indian Ocean region. Not only India but even the West, including the United States, wants to restrict China in the Indian Ocean. To achieve this objective, the United States considered India a strategic partner. Therefore, Sri Lanka has no choice but to draw inferences and respond according to Indian political nuances. Sri Lanka cannot avoid becoming involved in the Indian Ocean power struggle, regardless of how much it wants to remain neutral.

India which is playing politics on the world stage with additional vigour, joined the elite club of space administrators such as the United States, the former Soviet Union and China after the soft landing of Chandrayaan 3 on the Moon’s south pole. Prime Minister Modi, from the BRICs platform, while congratulating the Indian scientists for their enduring task, said, “India is now on the Moon”, a word of encouragement to fellow Indians and a sheer warning to those trying to prey on the Indian Ocean region in the long run.