Political Culture and Heritage
THE POLITICAL SYSTEMS OF THE THIRD WORLD are marked by violent upheaval, revolution, and military intervention in politics. There are only a few nations among the developing countries that have been able to maintain a system of stable and representative government. From 1948 until the 1980s, Sri Lanka was one of these countries. Even with civil war threatening the unity of the country since 1983, Sri Lanka has maintained its democratic institutions. How was Sri Lanka able to maintain this record of political stability and representative democracy? It is one of the poorest nations in the world, with a per capita gross national product of $700 per year. 1 In addition, a wide gap exists between the rich and the poor. And yet representative government and stability persisted. An examination of Sri Lanka reveals many factors that have led to the political stability the country has experienced as well as other factors that one would expect to lead to instability and violence. Despite the violence that Sri Lanka is currently experiencing, it has been able to maintain its democratic institutions. The following chapters explore why Sri Lanka has been successful thus far in establishing a stable political system; they also describe the threats to that stability. Specifically, they examine the cultural and historical heritage of Sri Lanka, the nature of its political institutions, the style of leadership exhibited by its leaders, and the ethnic problems and divisions in the society that threaten to destabilize it. The present chapter describes some of the basic features of the country, its historical heritage, and the social structure of its society.
The island now known as Sri Lanka has long been known for its natural beauty and lush vegetation. Located at the foot of the South Asian sub-