From Social Democracy to New Nationalist Populism

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 6:30 PM
Room: F203
Distributed Paper
Siri HETTIGE , Sociology, university of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka emerged as an incipient social democracy following independence. Progressive labor legislation, social protection for public and private sector workers, free health and education, etc. led to a steady improvement in social conditions in the country. Though some of these gains remain largely intact, economic  liberalization over the last three decades has changed the socio-economic landscape in an unprecedented manner.

Increasing public debts, both domestic and foreign, a widening trade gap, continuing devaluation of the local currency and the stagnant state revenue leave little room for significant state interventions in the area of social policy. Whatever  measures that have been attempted have already been abandoned due to financial unsustainability. While a minority of employed people continue to enjoy some form of social protection, the vast majority engaged in informal economic activities remain exposed to the vagaries of the market in terms of both earning an income as well as meeting their basic needs, let alone  the prospect for a future devoid of poverty and neglect.

It is against the above background that the dominant public discourse spearheaded by the state itself has shifted from social democracy to nationalist populism. While the former emphasized the role of the state as one guaranteeing the social rights of  citizens, the latter highlights the protective its  role. Even though the war ended in 2009, public discourse continues to be dominated by security issues. Persisting ethnic tensions in the country feed into the dominant discourse, relegating social policy issues to the background.