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(Opinion) Does the Sri Lankan Election Herald a Viable Indo-Pacific?

2015-03-07 09:54:58       source:The Diplomat

By William Bullock Jenkins


March 7, 2015


"A month and a half ago, a diverse coalition of parties and political, ethnic, and faith-based groupings produced an election upset in Sri Lanka. The ousted Mahinda Rajapaksa, an increasingly autocratic ruler intent on strengthening both his domestic grip and strategic ties with other autocratic regional states, was sidelined by Maithripala Sirisena in what has been called "a blow for democracy." This opens an uncharted chapter in Sri Lankan political history, one that comes soon after the cessation of long-term civil hostilities. But how does this unexpected democratic transition bode for the entrance of an on-side regional player more amenable to Western interests? Perhaps well. More interestingly and importantly: What does the Sri Lankan transition broadly mean for the Indo-Pacific region as a strategic entity?


Strategic Fulcrum


The Sri Lankan electoral upset on January 8 was largely lost amid coverage of the Charlie Hebdo events the day before. Despite limited coverage at the time, the election outcome has significant long-term implications for the Indo-Pacific. Sri Lanka sits in the middle of the Indian Ocean with a population of just over 20 million. Further, it promises strong economic growth that is likely to be sustained, particularly in its post-conflict transition. Under Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka was heading comprehensively into a Chinese camp. In some ways it was to be the centerpiece in a Chinese String of Pearls stretching from the Persian Gulf through Malacca – the other strategic fulcrum of the Indo-Pacific – to the South China Sea. There was much hope, stoked by the incoming government’s coalition on the campaign trail, that Sri Lanka’s tendency towards China would be reversed."


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