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Photo: “Jakarta Blok M Melawai Street“, by Vulphere licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. Hue modified from the original

Subedi, DB. “The Emergence of Populist Nationalism and ‘Illiberal’ Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka.” Asian Studies Review, October 7, 2021.


This article examines Sri Lanka’s ‘illiberal’ peacebuilding through the lens of what is referred to as populist nationalism, a distinct form of post-war political order characterised by nationalist politics with a populist orientation. It shows that the notion of ‘victor’s peace’ has facilitated a shift from ethnolinguistic nationalism to populist nationalism. It identifies three interrelated dimensions of populist nationalism – leadership, new social polarisation, and the narratives of crisis and securitisation. This analytical framework is applied to discern how and why ‘illiberal’ peacebuilding emerged in post-war Sri Lanka. The article argues that populist nationalism and ‘illiberal’ peacebuilding have a symbiotic relationship. Populist nationalism provided political justifications to legitimise ‘illiberal’ peacebuilding, which, in return, empowered the war victors, disempowered conflict victims, and enabled populist-nationalist leaders to manipulate peacebuilding resources to consolidate power. Emerging as a leader-centric political discourse, populist nationalism is reinforced by new social polarisations and securitisation, which further deepens social conflicts.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.