Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Prospects for Stable Democracy in Iraq, Part III

Sri Lanka

The origins of ethnic conflict between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil populations arose shortly after independence. Sinhalese politicians pushed for and established Sinhala as the official language, which reduced employment opportunities for minority Tamils in the government. In 1972, a new constitution changed the country’s name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka, made protection of Buddhism a constitutional principle (Tamils are predominantly Hindu), and socialized the economy. Ethnic outbidding gave rise to ethnic conflict, the basis of Sri Lanka’s separatist war. Between 1972 and 1983, disgruntled Tamil youth began to form military groups funded by bank robberies. The leading group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), who seek an independent homeland in the North and East of the island, began assassinating policemen and local politicians. In 1983, the LTTE launched a full-scale attack on the Sri Lankan army. Since then, politics in Sri Lanka has been dominated by an ongoing civil war. Cease fires and peace agreements have been signed and promptly discarded. To quell the violence and try to resolve the conflict, India intervened, sending troops to Sri Lanka in the late 1980s. It pulled out in 1990 after losing 1,100 Indian soldiers and having spent over 20 billion rupees to no avail.

The civil war has claimed more than 68,000 lives and caused considerable harm to the population and the economy. A fresh eruption of hostilities killed over 4,000 people between November 2005 and mid-2007. Several leading Sinhalese politicians have been assassinated and attempts have been made on the president’s life. Peace overtures from the central government, which has been governed by one of two major Sinhalese-based parties, have been routinely rejected by the LTTE. The Sinhalese finally brought the war to a successful conclusion by an all-out assault on the Tamil region. Time will tell if peaceful conditions endure.


Racial divisions structure Guyanese politics. From 1964 to 1985, Forbes Burnham, leader of the black People’s National Congress, ruled Guyana in an increasingly autocratic manner. International observers concluded that his party rigged several elections. Upon his death, Hugh Desmond Hoyle, his successor, became president. The first election internationally recognized as free and fair in 1992 resulted in the election of Cheddi Jagan (Jagan had previously served as premier during 1956-1964 prior to independence in 1966), the Indian head of the People’s Progressive Party, the first time an Indian held the top office. Upon Jagan’s death in 1997, he was succeeded by his wife Janet for two years, and then by Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo, who won reelection in 2006, the first non-violent election held in more than 20 years. For its part, the black PNC charged the Indian PPP with rigging the elections.

Race has been the dominant political influence in Guyana since the split of the multi-racial People’s Progressive Party in 1955. Political disturbances following elections, boycotts of parliament by the losing party, and suspensions of parliament have impeded orderly governance. Ethnic tensions between the two groups continue to this day, which are exacerbated by poor economic conditions and the lack of political will to overcome the racial divide.

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