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From The Socialist newspaper, 21 April 2010

Sri Lanka parliamentary elections: Rajapaksa's clan consolidates its rule

A RECORD 7,680 candidates contested 196 seats in 22 electoral districts in the parliamentary election in Sri Lanka held on 8 April. 36 political parties and a large number of individuals participated.

Siritunga Jayasuriya, United Socialist Party and Senan CWI

These figures were paraded by the ruling class as the sign of a 'flourishing democracy'. They claimed it was a 'new beginning' after 30 years of civil war, which was brought to its brutal end in May last year.

In fact this election registered a record low turnout, with the average just above 50%. The lowest turnout was in the Jaffna district with just 18%; including the internally displaced people (IDPs) this only rose to 23%.

This election was also marked by a record increase in violent intimidation and corruption. Around 1,000 complaints were recorded. But the actual number is believed to be even higher as the monitoring agencies were prevented from functioning properly.

The seriousness of the violence and violation of electoral law resulted in the suspension of ballot-counting in 34 polling stations and re-elections had to be called in two districts, Trincomalee and Kandy - the final result will be known after 21 April.

Ruling party ministers and thugs are reported to have taken control of polling booths and chased away opposition supporters, preventing them from voting. The media was barred from the vicinity of the polling stations and a number of journalists faced intimidation and threats.

A number of opposition activists and journalists are still in prison, including Sarath Fonseka who stood against president Mahinda Rajapaksa in the recent presidential election. He has now won a parliamentary seat in the Colombo district, while in prison.

With such intimidation tactics, the election resulted in a major 'victory' for the incumbent United People Freedom Alliance (UPFA). The UPFA won 117 seats, while the main opposition, the United National Party (UNP), only won 46 seats. The main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), won only 12 seats. In the last election in 2004 the TNA, backed by the Tamil separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), had won 22 seats. (These figures will change after the re-elections and re-allocation of votes).

Significantly, the Sinhala chauvinist party, the People's Liberation Front (JVP), won just five seats, a massive reduction from the 39 seats they had previously.

This victory for the UPFA is seen as a victory for Sinhala, Buddhist chauvinism and its proponent President Rajapaksa. That outcome has seen the surging Colombo stock exchange make further gains.

Constitution

The post-war victory mania, whipped up by the Rajapaksa 'clan', consolidated the chauvinist support after his re-election when he forcefully removed his opponent and ex-Sri Lankan army general Sarath Fonseka, imprisoning him for the duration of the general election.

Fonseka, who collaborated in the brutal war with the government, was viewed as a threat and potentially could have split the Sinhala majority vote.

The UPFA manifesto claimed that: "Sri Lanka is an emerging wonder of Asia". But with public debt at over 80% of GDP and a massive budget deficit, the economy had to be rescued by an IMF loan of $2.6 billion in 2009.

The ruling elite refuse to talk about the increase in poverty and the massive price increases on essential items. The promised 'peace dividend' has not materialised for the majority of the working and poor population.

But the boast of being an 'emerging wonder' and the war mania continue to help the ruling party to mobilise support. Using this opportunity the Rajapaksa clan aims to strengthen its power by changing the constitution.

The proposed constitutional changes if the ruling party gains a two-thirds majority will be a disaster. As part of the change the government is proposing a 'senate' which will include unelected 'religious leaders'. The Buddhist monks' party, Jathika Hela Urumaya or national heritage party (JHU), is one of the most right-wing racist, communal parties in the country. It is part of the UPFA and its candidates won a significant victory in this election.

There is no mention of the rights of the Tamil-speaking minorities in the proposed constitutional changes. There will not be a genuine attempt to reconcile or respond to the national aspirations of Tamil-speaking and Muslim minorities.

As in the last presidential election, a large number of Tamil-speaking people did not participate in this election. Those who voted showed courage by rejecting the warmongering ruling party and paramilitary forces.

The United Socialist Party (USP, the Socialist Party's counterpart in Sri Lanka) which stood in the north and south in this election, despite a media blackout, had a very good campaign in the north exposing the hypocrisy of the leading parties. However, its impact, given the intimidation and fraud, was not reflected in the vote.

The foreseeable future of the working and poor people in Sri Lanka seems more bleak now than ever. Rajapaksa increasingly behaves like a dictator. It seems his clan is preparing for long-term family rule. With ever increasing defence expenditure there will be cuts in public services and more attacks on workers' rights.

The USP is attempting to build a mass opposition against the capitalist ruling class; that will free the thousands of internally displaced people still kept in detention centres; that will defend democratic rights, freedom of speech and the Tamil-speaking people's right to self-determination.

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