“This is a coup—of the strangest sort.”
That’s what a key source on the ground in Colombo tells us this morning after the wild election in Sri Lanka, the first since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, and one in which the Tamils were expected to be the decisive vote.
Reports to us say that the final result was delayed and announced outside the standard procedure. What does that mean? Well, for one, that the challenger, Sarath Fonseka, was surrounded by Army troops as the result was announced, as were media outlets.
And as Sri Lankans voted, the election commissioner was rumored to be under house arrest, and the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration declared that Fonseka was “ineligible” to be president as his name was not on the electoral roll, thereby making it impossible for him to cast a vote.
(The election commissioner disagreed, but the foreign minister countered with “the courts have the ultimate authority.”)
Sri Lanka Telecome, the country’s primary internet service provider, blocked all news websites within the country since early morning January 26th, the day Sri Lankans went to the polls. A reporter with the top news website, Lankaenews, worried about the safety of Lankaenews political analyst Prageeth Eknaligoda, who has been missing since January 24th, after expressing preference for Fonseka.
A missing journalist is a serious issue - and if the election result stands, Rajapaksa may pay in the court of the global market. Last year, EU countries were already considering canceling the GPS Plus agreement, a $1.5 billion trade concession, over Sri Lanka's concern for human rights abuses. According to our sources in the European Commission, in the wake of this election there is a good chance the EU will suspend the agreement. A decision is planned for mid-February.
Currently, Fonseka is in a hotel at posh Cinnamon Lakeside, surrounded by the Army, and his personal guard has been arrested (the Army stated the guard was made up of military deserters). At his press conference, Fonseka said he did not accept the result of the elections, that the government was trying to assassinate him.