Elite patronage over party democracy: High politics in Sri Lanka following independence

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Abstract

When Sri Lanka became independent in February 1948 it lacked a well-established party system and instead relied upon patronage and elite social relationships. Though it had a long pre-independence history of constitutional development and evolving democracy, party politics was not deep-rooted and political power continued to be wielded by an elite that had an almost feudal relationship with the masses. The convention based Westminster model Sri Lanka adopted engendered a local system that relied more on relationships than rules. Political parties and institutions were often unable to check and balance the Executive's conduct of power. Sri Lanka's elite operated British institutions in an anachronistic eighteenth-century manner such as in having a patronage-based Cabinet dominated by its prime ministerial leader/patron rather than by collegial attitudes or values. The weakness of party institutionalisation and the ambiguity in the constitutional arrangements laid the foundations for future political conflict and marginalisation of segments of society. The continuity of affairs of state from the colonial era and the known and reassuring leadership of D.S. Senanayake and his ‘Uncle-Nephew Party’ masked the democratic tensions and institutional fragility within the Sri Lankan state that would come to the fore violently only years after what was then seen as a model transfer of power.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-186
Number of pages21
JournalCommonwealth and Comparative Politics
Volume52
Issue number1
Early online date17 Jan 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014

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