Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon until 1972. The modern name, Sri Lanka, is a reference to the Indian epic Ramayana, in which the island is named Lanka. The “Sri” prefix is a common term of respect in south Asia. Sri Lanka lies at the crossroads of the Indian Ocean and its early history consists of repeated migrations of peoples from the Indian mainland. Throughout some of India’s history, kingdoms in south India were powerful enough to control parts of Sri Lanka. In 1505 a Portuguese fleet landed on Sri Lanka and controlled most of the island in just over 100 years. Portuguese control was replaced by the Dutch and later the British. From 1796 until 1948, Ceylon remained part of the British Empire. Ceylon achieved its independence from the British Empire on February 4 without the violence that had been prominent in India. However, tensions between the Sinhalese and the Tamil populations would increase and eventually lead to civil war between them.
Sri Lanka lies off the southern tip of India and is separated from the mainland by the Palk Strait. It is separated by only 35 km (22 mi.) from India. Sri Lanka is 65,610 sq. km (25,332 sq. mi.) or approximately half the size of New York State or slightly larger than West Virginia. Sri Lanka has a population of about 22 million, but since the 1980s, several hundred thousand Tamils have fled to Western countries. There are eight provinces that Sri Lanka is divided into: Central, North Central, North Eastern, North Western, Sabaragamuwa, Southern, Uva, and Western. In 2006 the Supreme Court ruled void a presidential directive merging the North and Eastern provinces. The merger is seen by some as a prerequisite to settling the conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese and a parliamentary decision on the issue is pending.
A new constitution for the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka was promulgated on September 7, 1978. The executive president is directly elected for a seven-year term renewable once. The Parliament consists of one chamber, composed of 225 members who will next have elections by 2010. The prime minister and other ministers, who must be members of Parliament, are appointed by the president. Sri Lanka’s legal system is highly complex because it is a mix of English common law, Roman-Dutch, Kandyan, and Jaffna Tamil law. As such, it has not accepted compulsory International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction. Judges for both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals are appointed by the president.
Sri Lanka is a member of the United Nations (UN), World Trade Organization (WTO), the Commonwealth, the International Organization for Migration, the Asian Development Bank, the Colombo Plan, and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Its defense consists of an army, navy, and air force. Twenty years of civil war have severely affected the socioeconomic status of Sri Lanka’s peoples. Interregional commerce has been disrupted, poverty has increased, infrastructure has been damaged, and public finances have been weakened as a result of the continued conflict. However, a peace process was initiated in 2002 and since then, the government has embarked on reforms in order to rekindle the economy. Some of those reforms include privatization, amendment of bank laws, restructuring of financial markets, flotation of the exchange rate, and the introduction of a value-added tax system. Furthermore, in 2003, the international community promised aid worth $4.5 billion, which was to be disbursed from then until 2007 as long as the peace process continued. In 2006 fighting intensified and the government took control of the Eastern Province area in 2007. In January 2008, the government officially withdrew from the cease-fire and now actively engages the Tamils in the northern portion of the island.
On December 26, 2004, a tsunami hit Sri Lanka and, along with a significant loss of human capital (31,000 lives), caused an estimated $1.5 billion in damages. Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is $4,100 (2007 estimate). Agriculture makes up 16.3 percent, industry 27 percent, and services 56.6 percent of its GDP, respectively (2007 estimates). The United States is its largest export partner, followed by the United Kingdom and India, followed by China. The ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party is trying to reduce poverty by steering investment to disadvantaged areas, promoting agriculture, developing small and medium enterprises, and expanding the already enormous civil service. Currently, the government has halted privatizations. Around 800,000 Sri Lankans work abroad, most of whom are in the Middle East (90 percent). These expatriates send home more than $1 billion a year in remittances. The continued persistence of the Tamil Tigers of the north and east for an independent sovereignty continues to hinder the optimal progress of the economy. The major religion is Buddhism, with almost 70 percent of the population subscribing to it, followed by Islam.
- M. M. Aheeyar, Impact of MicroFinance on Micro-Enterprises: A Comparative Analysis of Samurdhi and SEEDS Micro-Entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka (Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute, 2007);
- CIA, “Sri Lanka,” World Factbook, www.cia.gov (cited March 2009);
- Nombulelo Duma, Sri Lanka’s Sources of Growth (International Monetary Fund, Asia and Pacific Department, 2007);
- The Europa World Year Book 2006, Volume II, International Organizations Countries: Kazakhstan-Zimbabwe (Routledge, 2006);
- Mario Gomez, A New Constitutional Framework for Sri Lanka: Proposals From Business and Civil Society (Berghof Foundation for Conflict Studies, Sri Lanka Office, 2007);
- International Business Publications, Sri Lanka: Starting Business (Incorporating) in Sri Lanka Guide (International Business Publications USA, 2008);
- Barry Turner, ed., The Statesman’s Yearbook 2008 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008);
- S. Upadhyay, India & Sri Lanka: Economic and Political Relations (ABD Publishers, 2007);
- Nireka Weeratunge, Enhancing the Enterprise Culture of Sri Lanka: Results of the ILO Enter-Growth Project’s Cultural Assessment in Four Districts (International Labour Organization, 2007);
- Hema Wijewardena, Anura DeZoysa, Tilak Fonseka, and Basil Perra, “The Impact of Planning and Control Sophistication on Performance of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: Evidence From Sri Lanka,” Journal of Small Business Management (v.42/2, 2004).
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