Following an event hosted by the Asian Pacific Forum and Georgetown University’s Asian Studies Program, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs sat down with H.E. Mr. Prasad Kariyawasam, the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States, to discuss the country’s recent presidential election, developments in democratic reforms, and foreign relations.
GJIA: What contributed to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat in the January 2015 election?
PK: The people of Sri Lanka wanted a change in leadership style. They wanted to turn the country away from President Rajapaksa’s highly executive-style of governance. Although President Rajapaksa gained appreciation and popularity by defeating terrorism in Sri Lanka and ending a long and brutally violent civil conflict, governance remained the main issue in the latest election.
GJIA: What are the biggest challenges facing the development of Sri Lankan democracy?
PK: Going forward, Sri Lankan democracy requires two things. First, the reconciliation process that started after defeating terrorism must continue more efficiently and steadfastly. Second, both economic and political reforms that decrease the power of the executive and strengthen democratic institutions must continue.
GJIA: Will a more open democracy in Sri Lanka serve to heal or exacerbate the tensions from the twenty-five year civil war?
PK: Sri Lanka’s democracy has been robust, but the 1978 constitution concentrated the lion’s share of power in the executive branch. By the 1990s, people rejected that style of governance in favor of a new government. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution under the new government has helped make Sri Lankan democracy more inclusive and people-centric. Such reforms will contribute positively to the social stability and economic development of the country.
GJIA: What does the future hold for Sino-Sri Lankan relations?
PK: Sri Lanka has enjoyed a fruitful and multifaceted relationship with the People’s Republic of China that has withstood the test of time. Our friendly relations continue today more as a robust commercial partnership. Our economic ties with China are particularly strong. Our relationship with China will continue to grow in the future on this basis.
H.E. Mr. Prasad Kariyawasam is the Ambassador for Sri Lanka to the United States of America and the designated Ambassador to Mexico. Ambassador Kariyawasam joined the Sri Lankan Foreign Service in 1981 and has held diplomatic assignments in Geneva, Riyadh, Washington, New Delhi, and New York. He is also the Permanent Observer of Sri Lanka to the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS).