This year has been an eventful one, and Sri Lankans will be looking forward to the chance to spend time with their loved ones on Christmas Day. The festive season is a time to evaluate the events of the year, as well as consider what may take place next year.
All political parties are gearing up for elections next year, but Sri Lanka’s economy has been anything but festive. With record debt repayments starting in 2019, and estimated to continue till about 2022, Sri Lankans need to be wary of pledges and concessions that politicians will inevitably make as polls draw closer. Elections, especially three in quick succession, is also likely to throw policy consistency - which has never been a strong point in successive Governments - into even more turmoil.
Christmas is a time when Sri Lankans hope for peace as well as prosperity. Earlier this year, the clashes in Digana showed yet again how fragile the peace in Sri Lanka is, and how it is essential that all citizens work to promote unity in this country. The spread of extremist organisations and the freedom they enjoy on social media does not bode well for continued harmony, at a time when political sentiments may also be heightened with elections around the corner. It is essential for all Sri Lankans to fight against discrimination of all forms, and protect the rights of all Sri Lankans.
In this context, reconciliation continues to be important. Next year will also be ten years since the end of the war. Despite the lapse of a decade, it is difficult to say that much has been achieved in dealing with the root causes of the war. The North remains economically isolated, and even though infrastructure improvements have been made, much more remains to be done. Providing closure to thousands of families still searching for their loved ones, dealing with the mental consequences of nearly thirty years of conflict, and providing sustainable livelihoods are still part of the struggle. Indebtedness also remains high in these areas, as does alcohol and drug abuse.
A political solution still remains unachieved, and while it is necessary for people to engage on what kind of solution may be best suited, it is important that this be done from a standpoint of empathy, understanding, and trust. Such a platform needs to be established and promoted partly by civil society, academics, media, and political parties. The latter cannot use the ethnic issues of this country for their campaigning purposes, which could lead to a deepening of divisions. For too long, politicians have capitalised on winning the war, but none have seriously attempted to heal the wounds caused by the conflict.
Therefore, Sri Lanka will continue to face strong economic, political, and social challenges next year. This week is a chance to focus on family and friends, but the bigger picture cannot be ignored for long. Sri Lanka enters the New Year with a new Cabinet, albeit of old faces, but there is a growing understanding that both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, as well as his Cabinet, have to fulfil the expectations of people beyond simple hand-outs. Perhaps the greatest challenges of 2019 will be decided by how they are tackled by this duo.