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Sri Lanka: Violent election campaign puts Rajapakse back in power
AFTER THE most violent election the country has seen, Mahinda Rajapakse remains president of Sri Lanka. Organised attacks by gangsters on opposition election campaigns left offices burnt out and four people dead.
Elizabeth Clarke, Committee for a Workers' International, CWI
While the result was being announced, Fonseka (the former army general who pursued the government's war against the Tamil Tigers) was being held under 'hotel arrest', surrounded by hundreds of state forces. After threatening to mobilise on the streets if the vote went against him, he ended up in fear of his life and 'contemplating' a legal challenge.
As far as the working class and poor of Sri Lanka were concerned - majority Sinhala, or minority Tamil or Muslim - the two main candidates offered no solution to their day to day problems.
In the first election after the decades-long civil war, they had been given a gruesome choice - between the president responsible for the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians and the army commander who carried it out! Between 'The devil you know' - Sinhala chauvinist warmonger, Rajapakse, and the 'lesser evil' - Fonseka, the Sinhala militarist, appearing in democratic sheep's clothing.
It is clear from the turnout of Tamil voters in the North - as low as 25% in Jaffna - that many were not enthusiastic about voting for either of their oppressors. Very few Internally Displaced Persons, or the tens of thousands still in the detention camps, were registered to vote, let alone able or willing to do so.
It is also clear that, even if there had been a 'fair fight' and Fonseka had won this election, not one element of real self-rule would have been granted to the Tamil people. As Chris Patten, co-chairman of the International Crisis Group warned before the election: "Tamil humiliation and frustration could well lead to militancy again."
In the last presidential election, in 2005, Tamils were mistakenly 'advised' by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), to boycott the vote. This was in line with the position of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, still at war with the Sri Lankan state at the time. Mahinda Rajapakse became the first president in Sri Lanka to be elected almost entirely by Sinhala votes.
This time, too, the Tamil politicians made a fatal mistake. The majority of Tamil MPs, in the TNA, recommended a vote for the butcher Fonseka, arguing that he could beat Rajapakse and carry out 'regime change'.
The United Socialist Party, affiliated, like the Socialist Party in England and Wales, to the Committee for a Workers' International, was the only party to represent the real interests of Tamil-speaking people as well as Sinhalese.
It consistently defended the Tamil rights throughout the war period. It has defended, in courageous campaigns, their right to self-determination and calling for united, working class action to defeat all chauvinists, warmongers and representatives of the ruling capitalist class.
The recommendation of the TNA MPs indicates their roots are in the existing class (and caste) society. They promote the illusion that the national aspirations of the oppressed Tamil people could be achieved without overthrowing existing class relations.
A new 'Singapore' in the Tamil homeland is the dream they have constantly promoted rather than a break with capitalism and a fight for a socialist federation in the South Asia region.
As expected, in the predominantly Tamil North and East, Fonseka did receive more votes than Rajapakse. In the war-devastated Jaffna and Vanni districts, in spite of massive intimidation and election violence, including bomb attacks in Jaffna on election day morning itself, the ex-commander got more than twice as many votes as the president - 167,630 against 66,052. In the Eastern Province, he got 386,823 compared with 272,327.
In the predominantly Sinhala South, whether by foul means or fair, Rajapakse apparently received a clear majority. The final 'result' gave him 58% of the vote island-wide.
At one point in the election, it was reported to a meeting of candidates that government vehicles and personnel were being used to assist the president's campaign. Posters and cut-out figures of Rajapakse were breaking all the regulations about maximum size and the police claimed they could do nothing about it.
Siritunga Jayasuriya, the candidate for the United Socialist Party suggested that, if that was the case, the people should be encouraged to take things into their own hands!
In a tireless campaign the length and breadth of the country, Siritunga and the USP stood for a united struggle of workers against the Rajapakse dictatorship and the bosses' system.
In spite of having no rich patrons and tiny resources, they were able to get their message across to hundreds of thousands of people through heroic leafleting sessions, postering and street meetings. (See USP website for campaign reports.)
In addition the party's candidate managed to get a small amount of coverage in the government-dominated media including the minimal legally allocated time on TV and radio.
But the USP was fighting an uphill battle trying to cut through the barrage of lies, distortions, misinformation and confusion that plagued this macabre election. In the last presidential election, Siritunga came in third with 35,425 votes. This time it was much lower.
Many, even left-leaning, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim voters, who might agree with the fighting programme of the United Socialist Party, misguidedly voted for Fonseka to get rid of Rajapakse.
Nevertheless, more than 8,352 people across the country voted for the USP - every one of them undoubtedly very conscious of the need for a bold socialist alternative to Sinhala chauvinism, war and capitalism. The USP recorded a higher vote than any other 'left' candidate in the election.
None of the problems of working and poor people in Sri Lanka will be solved by a new Rajapakse presidency. The USP will face up to the huge struggles of the future with the same courage and determination they have shown throughout the recent, very ugly period in the life of Sri Lanka.