Publication in Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific

Sri Lanka’s return to ethnic majoritarianism

Supporters of Sri Lanka People's Front party presidential election candidate and former wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa celebrate after he won the presidential election in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 17 November 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte).

Author: Shyam Tekwani, APCSS

The voyage from Serendib to Sri Lanka through Ceylon continues to be an uninterrupted tale of opportunities lost, scorned and spurned. The brutal end to the quarter-century war with the Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009 brought an unprecedented opportunity for the government to heal the Sinhala–Tamil ethnic divide. But now a new front is opening, one against Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority. Events since the Easter attacks of 2019 are reinforcing the belief that tolerance and inclusive governance are a chimeric dream. Read more…

Sri Lanka’s Easter attacks one year on

People light candles during a vigil in memory of the victims of a string of suicide bomb attacks across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka 28 April 2019 (Reuters/Thomas Peter/File Photo).

Author: Amresh Lavan Gunasingham, RSIS

A year has passed since last April’s Easter Sunday bombings, when Sri Lanka was hit by a wave of suicide bomb attacks carried out by a terrorist cell linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS) on three luxury hotels and three churches. Read more…

The failed politics of reform in Malaysia and Sri Lanka

Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad leaves after an event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 28 February 2020 (Reuters/Lim Huey Teng).

Author: Kanishka Jayasuriya, Murdoch University

The ejection of Mahathir Mohamad from Malaysian government and the victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the Sri Lankan presidential election seemingly mark the end of coalitions pushing for greater openness in the two countries. These developments offer an instructive case study on the politics of institutional reform. Read more…

Justice disappears for victims of the Sri Lankan civil war

Members of Sri Lankan 'Movement for equal rights' shout slogans outside Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's office against the government's decision to issue death certificates for people who disappeared during the civil war, Placard in Sinhala reads: 'If missing people are dead, who killed them?' in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 11 February 2020 (Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte).

Author: Sharika Thiranagama, Stanford University

In January 2020, the new President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared thousands who had disappeared during the civil war were ‘dead’ and that he couldn’t ‘bring them back’. This statement dismissed campaigns by families trying to locate their loved ones and demand accountability, as well as the work of the Office on Missing Persons, set up by the previous government to address disappearances. The state proposes issuing death certificates for up to 24,000 people. Read more…

The pitfalls of Sri Lanka’s remittance economy

A man counts Sri Lankan rupees notes at a counter of a currency exchange shop in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 14 November 2017 (Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte).

Author: Matt Withers, Macquarie University

The post-millennium surge in global remittances — amounting to a net transfer of US$689 billion to the global south in 2019 — has courted significant policy attention around prospects for ‘migration-development’. The World Bank and the Migration Policy Institute have heralded temporary labour migration as a ‘triple win’: a win for migrant workers, for the countries they hail from and for the countries they work in, with remittances positioned as the pivotal boon for migrant households and countries of origin. Read more…

Sri Lanka marching towards authoritarian security politics

Sri Lanka's former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was appointed as the new Prime Minister, looks on during the swearing in ceremony in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 21 Novermber 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte).

Author: Shyamika Jayasundara-Smits, Erasmus University Rotterdam

It was an eventful year in Sri Lankan politics in 2019. If not a year of crisis, perhaps the term chaos sums it up most accurately.

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A new direction for Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa waves at his supporters as he leaves the presidential swearing-in ceremony in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 18 November 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte).

Author: Dushni Weerakoon, Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s much anticipated presidential election in November 2019 was won convincingly by Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The presidential win is expected to boost the fortunes of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (Sri Lanka People’s Front), the breakaway new political party fronted by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the forthcoming parliamentary elections in early 2020.

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Sri Lanka’s foreign policy in a new Rajapaksa era

Sri Lanka's former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa (R) waves next to his brother and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa after he was nominated as a Presidential candidate during the Sri Lanka People's Front party convention in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 11 August 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte).

Author: Nilanthi Samaranayake, CNA

The return of the Rajapaksa family to the leadership of Sri Lanka raises questions about how the country’s foreign policy approaches to India, China and the United States may change. Media reporting immediately after the 16 November election expressed apprehension about Sri Lanka returning to China’s orbit after a presidential campaign marked by strong anti-US sentiment. Now that the Rajapaksas have reclaimed both the presidency and prime ministership, what direction will Sri Lanka’s foreign policy take?

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The Sri Lankan election and authoritarian populism

Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother and former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was appointed as the new Prime Minister, are seen during the swearing in ceremony in Colombo, Sri Lanka 21 November, 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Liyanawatte).

Author: Kanishka Jayasuriya, Murdoch University

The election on 16 November 2019 of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa — the brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa — ushers in an authoritarian populist regime that upholds a form of ethno-religious nationalism. The foundation of such a regime is in the new bourgeoisie that has emerged over the last two decades.

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Ignorance and populism puts Sri Lankan Muslims in the crosshairs

A nun arrives as a Sri Lanka's commando soldier stands guard in front of the main entrance to St. Lucia Cathedral as survivors and families of victims of Sri Lanka's Easter Sunday bombing arrive for a special mass for those who lost their lives, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 11 May 2019 (Photo:Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo).

Author: Farzana Haniffa, University of Colombo

There is no locally-relevant social or communal cause that could explain the Easter Sunday 2019 attacks in Sri Lanka. Christian–Muslim relations are largely cordial. Mobilisation of Buddhists through anti-Muslim rhetoric after the war’s end in 2009 led to several incidents of anti-Muslim violence with large-scale riots in Aluthgama in 2014 and Digana in 2018. There has been no retaliation to these attacks by Muslim groups. Read more…

Sri Lankan President Sirisena’s political war on drugs

A group of Sri Lankans hold placards during a protest condemning signed death sentences for four people convicted of drug-related offences in a decision by Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena, in front of the Welikada Prison in Colombo, Sri Lanka 28 June 2019. (Photo: Reuters/ Dinuka Liyanawatte).

Author: Shyamika Jayasundara-Smits, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s answer to drug-related crimes is bringing back the death penalty. According to recent reports, international drug smugglers are increasingly turning to Sri Lanka as a transit hub in Asia, while drug-related arrests are on the rise. On 26 June 2019, Sirisena signed death warrants for four prisoners serving sentences for drug-related crimes. His signature brought an end to a 43-year moratorium on the death penalty which begun following a final capital punishment case in 1976. Read more…

Regional rivalries over Sri Lanka’s ports

Sri Lankan Navy soldier stand guard as the HMAS Canberra sails into the main harbour in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 23 March 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte).

Author: Dushni Weerakoon, Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka

When it comes to Sri Lanka’s national security and sovereignty, nothing seems more guaranteed to generate heated discussion than the spectre of foreign involvement in seaport developments. After years of wrangling, Sri Lanka, India and Japan finally signed a Memorandum of Cooperation on 28 May 2019 to develop the strategically-located Colombo port’s East Container Terminal (ECT). But the ink was barely dry when disputes broke out again about the government’s authority to divest ‘strategic assets’ to foreign companies.

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Sri Lanka attacks expose South Asia’s cooperation failings

Devotees pray during the reopening ceremony of the St. Anthony's Shrine, one of the churches attacked in the April 21st Easter Sunday bombings in Colombo, Sri Lanka 12 June 12 2019. (Photo: Reuters/ Dinuka Liyanawatte).

Author: Bibhu Prasad Routray, Mantraya

Could Sri Lanka have prevented the Easter Sunday terror attacks that claimed 257 lives? Most media reports in the aftermath of the attack have suggested so. It has been argued that if Sri Lankan authorities acted upon the multiple intelligence briefings provided by India, the nine suicide bombers would not have been successful or the impact of the attacks could have been drastically minimised. Read more…

Avoiding Sri Lanka’s next civil war

Sri Lankan army personnel stand guard near a mosque as Muslim devotees arrive to attend Eid al-Fitr prayers to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Colombo, Sri Lanka 5 June 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/ Dinuka Liyanawatte)

Author: Benjamin Schonthal, University of Otago

18 May 2019 was a doubly significant day in Sri Lanka. Not only did it mark the ten-year anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, it was also Vesak, the most significant holiday in the Buddhist liturgical calendar. The coincidence seems appropriate: in Sri Lanka today, politics and religion seem more interlinked than ever. Read more…

China constrained as much as controlling in the South Pacific

A view of the Rock Islands of Palau. Picture taken 5 August 2018. (Photo: REUTERS/Farah Master)

Author: Denghua Zhang, ANU

China’s engagement with the states of the South Pacific Ocean has accelerated in recent years. But while policymakers and academics increasingly talk about China’s growing influence, Beijing actually operates in the region under a number of constraints.

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