Sri Lanka 2019-2020: Extremism, elections and economic uncertainty at the time of COVID-19

2 Jan, 2021

University of Oxford

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Sri Lanka in 2019 and 2020 was characterised by Islamist violence and its aftermath, a presidential and general election, and COVID-19. This article traces the internal, economic and foreign policies of Sri Lanka chronologically and thematically across the two years under examination. These policies were deeply interconnected during two of the most tumultuous years in Sri Lanka’s recent history. The impact of the tragic Easter Sunday bombings, the presidential and general elections, and the pandemic had a significant bearing on Sri Lanka’s economic well-being and its foreign policy trajectory. Following the general election in August 2020, the new government passed the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, which removed democratic checks and balances on the powers of the executive president. Meanwhile, restrictions on religious freedoms in response to COVID-19 triggered widespread protests, and anti-minority hostility and discrimination.

The economy, which was stagnant at the beginning of 2019 went into decline after successive internal and external shocks. Foreign policy was adjusted with changes in government, and in response to great power competition in South Asia. Sri Lanka, at the end of 2020, was in a more precarious situation than it was before 2019, in terms of the state of its democracy, economic stability, public health, and inter-communal relations.

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