WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's decision last week to lift the country's 28-year-old state of emergency will likely further endear him to a public that almost universally supports him. It may also potentially ease some of the international pressure the country is under over its human rights record. More than 9 in 10 Sri Lankans surveyed in April 2011 say they approve of Rajapaksa's job performance, as they have since the civil war ended in 2009.
Rajapaksa's move comes a few weeks before the Sri Lankan government is expected to face off against Western governments at a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting. The country faces increasing pressure from Western governments and human rights groups to conduct an independent probe into alleged war crimes separate from its own ongoing internal investigation.
Sri Lankans are less enamored with other countries' leadership, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, and China, although many don't know enough about them to offer an opinion. U.S. leadership, which has been one of the more vocal critics of the Sri Lankan government's efforts to investigate alleged rights violations in the final stages of the war, has lost favor. Twenty-four percent of Sri Lankans say they approve of U.S. leadership, down 12 percentage points from 36% in 2008 and 2009.
More Sri Lankans approve of China's leadership than that of the U.S., and, while they are more divided about some Western countries' leadership, they are still more likely to approve than disapprove of China's. Rajapaksa recently returned from a trip to China, during which he sought support against a war crimes investigation.
Sri Lankans' approval of their president's job performance likely reflects their happiness to finally have peace in their country and a vision for the rebuilding of their nation. The government's lifting of emergency laws has earned praise from the U.S. and other Western nations and suggests Sri Lanka is trying to leave its violent past behind. It will be imperative for the Sri Lankan government to use this political capital as it works to resolve conflicts within the country and reintegrate disenfranchised portions of the population.
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