Sri Lanka's Wickremesinghe must balance populism, growth

Ranil Wickremesinghe, right, leader of Sri Lanka's United National Party, waves next to his wife Maitree Wickremesinghe at the Prime Minister's official residence in Colombo on Aug. 19.
PHOTO: Reuters

COLOMBO - As a coalition of political parties tries to form a government in Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the re-elected prime minister, is likely to have a tough time balancing populist measures with the need to lift economic growth.

In fact, demands for expensive handouts may grow louder following the election. Meanwhile, the new government's relations with big neighbours China and India will also greatly affect Sri Lanka's economic prospects.

The Aug. 17 vote gave the United National Party and its allies around 106 seats in the 225-seat legislature, a bit short of the 113 needed for a simple majority. Horse trading in the next few weeks may encourage a few members of the United People's Freedom Alliance, of which President Maithripala Sirisena is a part, to cross the aisle.

The left-leaning Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, which has 16 seats, and the six seats controlled by Tamil National Alliance, may also support the government.

The island nation will, for the next four years at least, have a stable government under the United National Front for Good Governance, an alliance of Wickremesinghe's United National Party and smaller parties.

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