Shashik Dhanushka Silva, a Senior Researcher attached to the SSA, presented a paper titled “Democratic institutions in Sri Lanka’s Clientelistic Politics: Challenges to Social Inclusion” at the South Asia Workshop of Social Inclusion/ Exclusion. The conference was jointly organised by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and the University of Heidelberg, Germany. The conference was held on the 22nd and 23rd March 2017.

The abstract of Shashik’s paper is below:

Sri Lanka is one of the oldest democracies in South Asia. Since independence, successive governments expanded democratic institutions to include people across the country.  Although democracy expanded horizontally, to ensure greater inclusion of all communities irrespective of their race, creed and economic class, it is important that democracy be expanded vertically as well. In this context, local government – the legislative institution closest to the people- plays a very crucial role in deepening democracy in Sri Lanka. However, contrary to its design, due to the clientelistic nature of Sri Lankan politics, practices in local government often either hinder inclusion or in some cases even reproduce exclusion.

This paper seeks to explore this interesting contradiction in local governance in Sri Lanka. It also attempts to explain the paradoxical manner in which local government institutions in rural Sri Lanka, which are ideally designed to promote greater democracy and greater inclusion, actually operate in a manner that excludes the very citizens they represent. This paper is based on field research conducted in two villages – Isurugama in Matale district and Welgala in Kandy district- in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. A phenomenological approach was used in this research. The paper approaches the research through the theory of social exclusion, which seeks to understand the many factors that prevent individuals and communities from enjoying equal access to resources, a life of dignity, and full participation in the life of the community.

The paper illustrates how social and political exclusion determine a citizen’s party affiliation, and how that affiliation contributes to the reproduction and perpetuation of marginalization. It argues that the political authority at the local level is extremely dependent on national-level politics and those who represent such local political authorities are generally the local agents of those national politicians. Therefore, often local agendas are designed to further the [personal and political] agendas of national politicians instead of the other way around.  As a result, inclusion/exclusion of villages is very much determined by their party affiliation rather than their community. On the other hand, communities also accord more importance to maximization of benefits for themselves by extending their allegiance to politicians and parties rather than engaging in politics to ensure the inclusion of their community in local governance.