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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena walk after paying homage to Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, March 14, 2015 (AP photo Eranga Jayawardena).

Sirisena’s Promised Reforms Help Reset Sri Lanka-India Ties—for Now

Monday, March 16, 2015

Last week was an auspicious time for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to culminate his three-country tour around the Indian Ocean with the first visit by an Indian leader to Sri Lanka in three decades. Given the island nation’s shifting political landscape following the surprising defeat of its two-term president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in early January, the milestone represented by Modi’s visit Friday and Saturday was further amplified by the trip’s geopolitical importance.

Under Rajapaksa’s leadership, Sri Lanka ended a civil war that lasted nearly three decades. But his rule was plagued by corruption, nepotism, the centralization of power and increasingly illiberal governance. The man who unexpectedly defeated him in January, Maithripala Sirisena, an erstwhile member of Rajapaksa’s Cabinet and longtime member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), has promised to rebalance Sri Lanka’s foreign policy and implement sweeping domestic reforms. But are Sirisena’s goals realistic? Will he be able to strengthen bilateral relations with India and rechart the country’s authoritarian course? ...

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