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The Easter bombings have left Sri Lanka in a dire state. As is the case with most terror attacks that have occurred in the past, a crisis event of this nature can leave a state with numerous political and economic implications. The central thesis of this paper is twofold. Firstly, the recent Easter attacks have shed light on the many shortcomings of the Sri Lankan government and will have a significant impact on election politics that surface as a result of a shift in political leanings of the public and loss of trust in the present government, in addition to a potential change in part system stability. Secondly, the economic implications of the attacks include a disrupted tourism industry, challenges to investment and reduced commercial activity particularly for small-scale businesses.
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The paper will evaluate the political and economic ramifications of the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. While many definitions of the term “terrorism” exist, this paper will use the definition provided by Oxford University Press, as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. ” This essay has been organized in the following way. The first part provides an overview of the Easter Sunday terror attacks which is necessary in order to understand the proceeding sections. Next, the paper will individually assess the political and economic impact of the attacks followed by a summary of key points and concluding remarks.
Sri Lanka witnessed its deadliest attack since the end of the civil war in 2009 on 21st April 2019 when three Catholic churches, three luxury hotels and one motel were bombed by suicide members who were later identified as members of a local jihadist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath (hereafter NTJ). Targeting Christians and tourists on Easter Sunday, ISIL allegedly claimed responsibility for the attacks stating that the perpetrators involved were Islamic state fighters. UNICEF places the current death toll at 253, including 46 children and the Government of Sri Lanka (hereafter GoSL) states that over 500 people, including children have been injured and are in need of assistance. The attacks come at a time when Sri Lanka had experienced structural and physical communal violence, primarily among Sinhalese and Muslims that emerged sporadically since 2017. These events along with Sri Lanka’s slow post-war reconciliation process, concerns regarding potential ethno-religious clashes had risen but no long-term efforts to address this issue were implemented.
Terrorist attacks can have profound political consequences. Perhaps the most noteworthy political impact of the terror attacks was the loss of public confidence in the present government. GoSL was not only ineffective in dealing with the possible threat, but they allegedly ignored all warnings and refused to take responsibility for their inaction. Recovering from a terror attack is a significant challenge for the government, considering the fact that a balance between freedom and security has to be achieved, resource constraints need to be addressed and all government institutions need to be kept in check, especially with regard to avoiding ethnic bias.
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Moreover, a politician’s responsibility to act in the public’s interest is an important component of modern democracy but failure to do so has resulted in many negative implications. The attacks served as an instrument to highlight their shortcomings; particularly with regard to the communication gap between politicians and intelligence officials, disregard for warning signs and more interestingly, the dire consequences of President Sirisena’s decision to place the defense and police divisions under his own control. All these indicators reveal that GoSL was pre-occupied with internal matters which undoubtedly resulted in a greater tragedy.
On a different note, it has been noted that terror events prompt coalition parties to rally in unison and show a united front as a stand against terrorism. In the local context, we saw this through a few events such as the joint resignation of Muslim ministers from their portfolios while continuing to serve as parliamentarians and several members of Parliament issuing statements on solidarity and the need for unity as well as stating collective apologies and accountability.
It is also evident that the event will influence election politics and party system stability. Signs of a shift in political leanings among the public have already become clear and while the citizens lose faith in the government, those hoping to run for election would most likely use past events to their advantage. For instance, former Defense Chief Gotabhaya Rajapaksa announced his candidacy for the presidential elections not long after the attacks occurred. Terrorist activities are therefore known to influence voters’ perceptions and electoral outcomes. The writer estimates that the 2019 presidential candidates will use the terror attacks to further their agenda and influence voter perceptions. The electoral outcomes too are likely to witness a change in the dominant party and coalitions. Moreover, disagreements within internal political factions can also result in instable coalitions that can affect party system stability. The recent emergence of a so-called coalition politics is likely to change following the elections. Moreover, it is also probable that the Rajapaksa faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) would take center-stage in the proceeding government.
Regarding the economic impact of the terror attacks, the disruption of tourism and the negative impact on investment and small businesses are noteworthy. The damage to tourism is perhaps the most apparent in this regard. A terrorist attack can affect tourism by reducing tourist numbers thereby resulting in a decrease in spending which consequently affects the GDP. Revenue obtained from tourism amounts up to 5% of the national economy. Tourist arrivals dwindled by almost 70% in the immediate aftermath of the attacks and the drop is expected to stand at 50% even two months following the incident with flight cancellations also reaching almost 80%. Moreover, considering that Sri Lanka was just experiencing an upsurge of tourist arrivals following Lonely Planet’s ‘top country to travel in 2019’, this tragedy comes as a major downfall. Demand for local goods and services also weaken within the next few months as tourism declines.
Tourism downfall and other factors would also affect the state’s investment prospects. Not only will the events affect the Sri Lankan rupee but the state also needs to monitor the response of prospective foreign investors. The loss of tourism revenue and investment will affect foreign exchange reserves in addition to the added burden of the state’s ever-present increasing public debt.
As for the implications for small business owners, fear of going to public places and ethnic boycotting of local businesses have affected their daily earnings. Stalls in Pettah were removed as part of security measures in the immediate aftermath of the incident and many street vendors near Kotchchikade church suffer the consequences. The communal riots that followed also discouraged usual buyers to step out into the streets and led many shopkeepers to close their stores indefinitely – further affecting businesses. All in all, the economic sphere has largely been defined by reduced business activity, tourism decline and lesser investment prospects. The fact that public resources will now be allocated for counter-terrorism efforts such as investigations and security measures are also noteworthy.
This essay set out to assess the politico-economic impact of the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. The attacks took place at a time when the state was already witnessing a political crisis and a grim economy. The terror attacks only worsened the politico-economic prospects for Sri Lanka. It is important to note that most of the consequences identified above are closely linked as politics and economy constitute a symbiotic relationship. The writer wishes to iterate that most of the clauses could not be elaborated individually due to space constraints. Overall, although the impact of the attacks has considerable implications for Sri Lanka, it is the hope of all citizens that both the incumbent government and the next will work towards achieving both security and prosperity for its citizens.
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