ICES: Political Economy of Post-War Sri Lanka

by Sunil Bastian, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Kandy, Sri Lanka, May 2013

Image 1ICES Political Economy of Post-War Sri Lanka

There are three main conceptual flaws in this discourse. First, it wants to forget the war as a historical event. It wants to forget the war, how it ended and the implications of these events especially on the nature of the state in Sri Lanka. It ignores the creeping authoritarianism, further decay of institutions, and rule by family clique and patronage network that is being slowly established. In other words, we might not have an armed conflict now but the current context is a product both of the period when armed conflicts dominated and the manner in which the armed conflict ended. If the armed conflict had ended with a political solution that ensured state reform, we would be in a different situation now. Therefore, Sri Lanka is a postwar country, and not a post-conflict country. The word war reminds us of the reality of armed violence that dominated preceding years.

Second, the notion of reconciliation ignores the fact that the Sri Lankan conflict is about statesociety relations, rather than an ethnic conflict or conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils. It is not that there are no problems in the relations between identity groups. But these problems cannot be understood in isolation from politics and state power. Therefore, reform of the state to accommodate plural identities is an essential part of any reconciliation. This has to happen at the level of structures, public policy and identity of the state…

Therefore, there is a great need to get away from the dominance of the discourse of development and reconciliation, which has trapped even some of the civil society organisations. There is a need to understand the contradictions of a deepening process of capitalist development, which is pushed by a state that is becoming increasingly authoritarian. In order to pursue this debate, this paper focuses on four critical issues: changing land policy, economic exploitation of the North and East, labour policy and inequality. Each of these areas entails complex political issues. How the regime will manage these changes will have a bearing on state-society relations and stability. Given the nature of the state in Sri Lanka, the social contradictions arising from these policy areas are likely to be managed through patronage networks or repression rather than a rational policy process.

The rest of the paper is organised as follows. As background to what follows, the next section gives a brief account of post-1977 Sri Lanka. This has been characterised by a capitalism much more open to global capitalism, and an internal armed conflict, which led to the LTTE, controlling part of the country. The armed conflict reflected a failure of state formation and Sri Lanka’s inability to develop a state structure that could successfully manage relations between the state and the Sri Lankan Tamils. The following section provides an account of consolidation of the geographical space called Sri Lanka through militarily means, and an overview of political developments in post-war Sri Lanka. The major features are centralisation of power and authoritarian tendencies. The third section provides an overview of the specific characteristics of economic policies followed by the Rajapaksa regime within a broad framework of capitalist development. The most important feature is the policy towards the state sector. There are no signs of any new reforms of the state sector as part of economic policy. On the contrary, the state sector has expanded during the Rajapaksa regime. Finally, we look at four policy areas — land policy, economic exploitation of North and East, labour policy and inequality — as being critical areas of social impact resulting from further deepening of capitalist relations. We argue that these four will add new dimensions to social contradictions and state-society relations in post-war Sri Lanka.

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