Right now this government is a western media darling (especially Ranil), but that won’t help them win the upcoming Parliamentary Election. Indeed, looking favored by the West can actually lose you votes at home. This government was elected on domestic issues but they’re spending a lot of time on foreign policy, it’s a risk.
Without a doubt, having better relations with the US, Europe and India is very good. They are our biggest trade partners and many Sri Lankans have personal relationships there. If we have better relations with those countries (especially if we get concessions like GSP+ back in Europe) it will be better for the economy and working people of this country.
However, many Sri Lankans also perceive the US and India as being hypocritical and unfair to Sri Lankan in terms of the war. The US has a terrible human rights and war record and India isn’t much better. India also actively supported the LTTE for years. For them to want to punish Sri Lanka for ending a terrorist threat feels unfair to a lot of people.
None of this is to say that a truth and reconciliation process isn’t important, but coming from these sources it often sounds punitive, not restorative.
Any appearance that Ranil or Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera is bowing down to foreign powers doesn’t sit well with a lot of Sri Lankan voters. Including myself. There’s a line between being diplomatic and restoring the countries place in the world and looking like you’re selling the country out. They have to be careful.
As much ‘good’ press as they’re getting abroad, a lot of it is pissing off people at home.
This government actually got elected on domestic issues. People could see that Mahinda was running a mafia state where the connected got rich and everyone else barely got by. Mahinda’s mafia was so small and so greedy that even the SLFP members (his party) broke off to run and vote with the UNP. What they campaigned on was good governance (which actually doesn’t factor that high in opinion surveys) and reducing the cost of living (which does).
To some degree their interim budget has done that (reducing costs and fuel prices) and it has also made populist noises (taxing wealthy companies and people, often retroactively). They have also made the right noises in terms of reducing the colossal amount of waste under Mahinda. Most obviously, the Presidential budget was slashed from 104 billion Rupees (around 784 million dollars) to 2.5 billion Rupees. There was also a big show of finding all the cars and waste that was off the books.
That said, peoples standard of living hasn’t really improved. Indeed, there’s nothing this government really can do in 100 days, beyond the price reductions in the budget, but it has to act like it’s their priority. Or people will kick them out.
This government has to balance what it was elected to do and what it feels like doing. Foreign policy is the most fun part of governing, but it in many ways has the least positive effects on elections. Indeed, the more time you spend on that, the less time that you’re actually spending with your constituents.
Long term, a less belligerent foreign policy is good for the domestic economy, and simply replacing violent idiots like Sajin Vass Gunawardhane has been a good step. This government, however, can’t go crazy basking in positive headlines from the West, because A) they don’t influence voters here and B) if they do, they often influence them negatively.
While this government has done a good job of cracking down on waste and caring about average peoples economic problems, they also need to tread delicately on the war issue. They have to balance addressing the real needs of minorities and everyone affected by the war while still emphasizing the nations right to defend itself against terrorism.
In the Presidential campaign, Mahinda campaigned against Maithripala Sirisena saying he’d be a puppet of Ranil, and that Ranil was a puppet of India and the US. It didn’t work then, but if this government doesn’t balance perceptions, that line of attack could influence the election to come.