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Political instability, economic growth and sustainable development

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Sri Lanka is again facing a period of political chaos, leaving many speechless considering what is taking place in and outside parliament. Where many experts expected Mahinda Rajapaksa to return to some sort of leadership, how this took place was still surprising. 

Since then, news are manifold, including fake news certainly, however again, a sphere of uncertainty, hopelessness and frustration can be felt among many groups of society. Where hopes were high at the presidential change some years ago, the current Government has disappointed many. 

This last political coup has solely confirmed that the previous promises of bringing real positive change to the country has not been kept. In various ways the Sirisena Government has left many disappointed, however the majority agreed on the achieved freedoms linked to journalism, freedom of speech and political opinion. 

Where some make jokes and laugh about this latest coup, it must be a bitter laugh for sure, based on frustration and hopelessness felt for any voter and citizen of the country who abides the law and tries the level best to contribute to a growing and flourishing Sri Lanka. The majority of people on that island do seem to wish for a few hundred rupees more income a month, for health and good education of their children, for a bit of wealth and improved infrastructure within their locality. 

To experience the sheer amounts of money wasted and/or pocketed by various leaderships at various times, looking at the geopolitical influences and implications of these actions for future generations, leaves everyone who loves Sri Lanka and who can envision the potential of this island with a broken heart.

Political stability and economic growth are very much interconnected. If there is political instability prevailing in a country, investments are low; on the other hand low economic growth can lead to political instability as well. However, political stability can also mean one oppressing government and political instability can also mean a democracy which includes parties who solely fight with each other and are not able to lead the country meaningfully. 

As Zahid Hussain outlines in his article for the World Bank: “When political stability comes with having one party or a coalition of parties in office for a long time, it may eventually be detrimental. The economy may do well in terms of attracting foreign direct investment because stability means a predictable political environment. However, other aspects of the society might suffer because of complacency, lack of competition, and opacity. The economy eventually suffers because of these. Consequently, stable governments do not necessarily lead to higher economic growth.”

Hope remains that because Sri Lanka is facing several political challenges, different groups of society find reason to engage in activities improving the country. May it be out of frustration about the current situation, may it be because there are actually new possibilities coming up for them based on the new situation, there is hope that new actors are coming to the table who feel the time is ripe to contribute to real change and prosperity for Sri Lanka.

Looking at sustainable development the usual sequence many refer to is: political stability – economic growth – sustainable development based on the thought that sustainable development can only be a concern when other needs are fulfilled. A more comprehensive viewpoint however outlines that sustainable development is a holistic concept which looks at politics, economy, environment, society similarly. 

If climate change challenges increase, further economic development will suffer, society will demand decisions from politicians to find solutions to the new threats. Therefore sustainable development has to be a concept which is included into each sphere, instead of being the “final step”.

When looking at our current situation in Sri Lanka, the past years a variety of new initiatives and organisations have been put in place dedicating themselves to an improved society, environment and economy. A new generation has brought out startups which intend to bring Sri Lanka to a new level of innovation. Where many feel the past few days have pushed Sri Lanka back again, hope remains that they encourage society to now more than ever push for the Sri Lanka they wish to live in. 

The political games and actions might be “business as usual”, however society has changed in the past few years, which might make it possible to use this current crisis as jumping point to shape Sri Lanka, to not let frustration prevail but to find strength to contribute to sustainable change.

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