ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Authoritarian Populism, Illiberal Democracy and the Making of an Economic Crisis

The Case of Sri Lanka

The authoritarian populist tendencies of an excessive personalisation of power, curtailment of civil liberties, circumvention of the rule of law, and increasing militarisation of state apparatus have exacerbated Sri Lanka’s lurch towards illiberal democracy, thereby precipitating the grave economic and humanitarian crises.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his presidency has been the subject of much contested debate, and many argue that he ushered in an authoritarian populist regime that upholds a form of ethno-religious nationalism (Jayasuriya 2019). Sri Lankans elected Gotabaya Rajapaksa as their president (16 November 2019) in the aftermath of the deadly Easter Sunday blasts. The Rajapaksas were ousted in 2015 when Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the presidential election. Mahinda Rajapaksa first came to power in 2004, first as the prime minister and then as the president. It was under the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya, the defence minister, that Sri Lanka in 2009 finally crushed the insurrection of the Tamil Tigers.

It is important to underline that the making of the current economic crisis is not hinged on short-term triggers alone, but also in the pitfalls of authoritarian populism marked by unfettered powers to executive presidency and nepotism and corruption that followed from it. It can be stated that the transition of a rule-based order to one of family networks goes back to the period of Mahinda Rajapaksa (Jacinto 2022). During Mahinda Rajapaksas second term as president from 201015, there were said to be more than 40 Rajapaksa family members in government posts, apart from the cabinet (Subramanian 2022). The Rajapaksa clan also dominated the Gotabaya cabinet holding key ministerial portfolios.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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