An analysis of policy implications in the aftermath of the 2015 Presidential Election. The author argues aginst reductionist approaches that look for 'one big answer' to the problems faced by Sri Lanka. The article points out the need to focus on three areas of policy - strengthening the plural character of Sri Lanka, building the autonomy of the state, and an economic policy that integrates social dimensions into the growth strategy.
Once hailed as a model for third world development, Sri Lanka suffered from a protracted civil war for more than three decades. Although the country has been stabilised through military means underlying structural reasons for the conflict have not been resolved. How did a country that at one time was a model for third world development change in a space of a few decades? What particular capacity or incapacity did the state posses in making this transformation towards a veritable failure in pluralistic stated formation? Many studies on Sri Lanka‟s conflict have focussed on issues like the politics of identity formation and limitations of state institutions in managing inter - ethnic relations. There is hardly any literature that looks at how the development priorities and trajectories, necessitated by particular types of state-society relations, have defined the scope of state capacities as well as incapacities in political and social transformation. In this paper I develop an argument that focuses on a paradox in which the state‟s enabling capacity in one domain of public policy –towards the rural Sinhalese masses -- undermined the state‟s capacity to effectively construct relations in another domain -- with ethnic minorities.
The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how deepening capitalist relations in post-war Sri Lanka will accentuate the social contradictions associated with capitalist development, and add a new dimension to problems of state society relations. The paper looks at this in four policy areas: land policy, economic exploitation of the North and East, labour policy and inequality. The social outcomes of these will supplement creeping authoritarianism and the unresolved national question as major issues that we need to focus on in understanding state-society relations in post-war Sri Lanka.
The main purpose of this paper is to establish the importance of focusing on the politics of market reforms if Sri Lanka is to achieve sustainable peace. The late Newton Gunasinghe tried to draw our attention to this aspect in his seminal article analysing possible reasons for the July ‟83 anti-Tamil violence.2 In this essay he focused on the changing relationship between the state and different social classes among the Sinhalese because of policies of liberal capitalism and its impact on the ethnic conflict. Since the focus of essay was July ‟83 anti-Tamil violence where Colombo was the centre of violence, his foci were small businesses and the urban poor. He argued that the inauguration of liberal economic policies led to loss of state patronage in the case of small businesses and undermined welfare benefits received by the urban poor. He saw these factors playing a role in the July ‟83 violence.
The purpose of this chapter is to provide a framework to understand how politics and power operates within the market oriented economy of Sri Lanka. The chapter consists of five sections. The first section creates the background for the discussion that follows by analysing the social composition of the political class that rules Sri Lanka today. It discusses how the political power enjoyed by the English educated, westernised colonial elite was diluted due to the impact of electoral politics. It also shows how their influence continues through the control of key levers of power.
Since the end of the war in May 2009, there has been a lot of talk about 'reconciliation and development' in Sri Lanka. Though this is a slogan promoted primarily by the government, many, including the business sector and civil society, have welcomed such rhetoric. This has been buttressed by the support of some donor agencies, whose main agenda has been the promotion of a capitalist economy. There is no doubt that the defeat of the LTTE has created an environment more conducive for positive expectations in the country, nor should one underestimate the importance of this development. After all, it is far better to be in an environment in which politics, rather than the clash of arms, dominates. However, the question remains as to whether Sri Lanka will make use of this opportunity to develop a more just society, or merely to move in a direction that consolidates the structures of social exclusion.
It is possible to analyse land reforms using a variety of frameworks. The most common one found in literature, especially among those concerned about the economy, is to link the land reform debate with the objective of achieving agricultural growth. For others who are concerned with rights, the purpose is to ensure land rights and poverty alleviation. In recent times the notion of rights based development has helped to propagate this approach.
Sunil Bastian is a political economist. His current research interests are politics of state formation and development of capitalism in Sri Lanka. He has published widely, and is the editor of Devolution and Development in Sri Lanka (1994). He has co-edited with Nicola Bastian, Assessing Participation, A debate from South Asia (1996), and with Robin Luckham, Can Democracy be Designed? The Politics of Institutional Choice in Conflict-torn Societies (2003) published by Zed Press, London. His most recent publication is The Politics of Foreign Aid in Sri Lanka. Promoting Markets and Supporting Peace (2007). He has been a Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo and chairperson of the Centre for Poverty Analysis. He has more than two decades of consultancy experience with a range of donor agencies.
Devolution and Development in Sri Lanka
(1994) Editor, Devolution and Development. New Delhi: Konark Publishers.
The politics of foreign Aid in Sri Lanka
(2007) Politics of foreign aid in Sri Lanka, Promoting markets and supporting peace. Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies.
Can democracy be designed?
(2003) Co-editor, Can Democracy be Designed? London: Zed Books.
Assessing participation - A debate from south asia
(1997) Co-editor, Assessing Participation: A Debate from South Asia. New Delhi: ITDG/Konark Publishers.
Copyright @ 2017 Sunil Bastian.