World

Before War’s End, Many Sri Lankans Optimistic About Peace

by Brett Pelham, Rajesh Srinivasan, and Nicole Naurath

Yet, indicators of hope for peace became more negative over past two years

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In May 2008, a year before the Sri Lankan military's declared victory over the ethnic minority Tamil Tigers, a slim majority of Sri Lankans (53%) Gallup surveyed outside the war-torn portions of the country expressed hope for peace between the once-powerful Tamil Tigers and the majority Sinhalese Sri Lankan government. This was statistically unchanged since 2007, but down from 62% in March 2006.

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There is still some uncertainty about whether the civil war is truly over. The Sri Lankan government has gained military control over the northern part of this island nation, a region that was once the Tamil Tiger's stronghold. The military also confirmed that long-time rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed. What is not clear is whether the Tamil Tigers will abandon their 26-year struggle for autonomy despite these details.

In a country embroiled in what has been called "Asia's longest modern war," the downward trend was slightly sharper for support for the peace process. In 2006, 91% of Sri Lankans said they supported the peace process. By 2008, this value had dropped to 76%. Despite this trend, a clear majority did still express either moderate (24%) or strong (52%) support for the peace process in 2008.

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Likely highlighting the effect of conflict on Sri Lankans' everyday lives, in 2008, 24% of Sri Lankans said they felt that the city or area where they live is not a good place for ethnic minorities. This was up substantially from only 10% in 2006.

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Caveats and Conclusions

Because of the ongoing conflict in the northern part of Sri Lanka at the time of these surveys, Gallup was unable to poll the Sri Lankans who were living in the epicenter of the conflict. Thus, the attitudes reported here are those of the approximately 90% of Sri Lankans living outside of the war zone. Those living in the war zone may have had attitudes that differed from those reported here. Also, data collection in 2008 came well before the recent offensive push against the Tamil Tigers. It is likely that attitudes changed in the past year, and will continue to change now that the government has declared victory.

Despite reports that many Sri Lankans are celebrating the end of a quarter century of civil war, many analysts have noted that the underlying conditions that fostered the rebellion by the Tamil Tigers still exist in Sri Lanka. Thus, one cannot yet say that a secure peace has been achieved.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with at least 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted between March 2006 and May 2008 in Sri Lanka. For results based on the total sample of national adults in each wave, the 95% margin of error ranged between ±3.3 and ±3.8 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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