Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/417/4749
Sri Lanka presidential election:
Big gains for United Socialist Party
But Rajapakse's victory poses dangers for working class
SRI LANKA'S presidential election was held against the backdrop of a faltering three-year ceasefire between the government and separatist Tamil Tigers (LTTE), a badly performing economy, and a population still suffering the effects of last December's tsunami.
It was narrowly won by the prime minister Mahinda Rajapakse with 4,887,152 votes (50.3%) who beat the former prime minister Ranil Wickeremesinghe - 4,706,366 votes (48.4%). Significantly, Siritunga Jayasuriya of the United Socialist Party (CWI, Sri Lanka) came third (out of 13 candidates) with 35,405 votes, the highest for a left candidate.
ON 18 NOVEMBER, immediately after Mahinda Rajapakse's acceptance speech, Siritunga Jayasuriya made a fighting speech carried live on national TV.
Addressing Rajapakse, Siritunga Jayasuriya declared: "This is the first time in Sri Lanka that a president has been elected on the votes of the Sinhala (majority) population. The Sinhala Buddhist zealots have dominated your election platforms. As president, you have a duty to control these forces which you have encouraged. Their hatred of the Tamil-speaking people, including the Muslims, poses a huge danger in this country.
"None of the ordinary working and poor people wants war again. They feel bad things are now in store. You have made a lorry-load of promises to this country. If they are not implemented, the United Socialist Party, with Siritunga Jayasuriya, will go to the streets. We will mobilise behind the demand that they be implemented or that you step down.
"Some of the main TV stations and newspapers have been so careful not to mention the name of our party or its candidate. I say a heart-felt thank you to all those who, in spite of this, voted for the United Socialist Party."
SIRI EXPLAINED to the media, all keen to interview him now, that the USP election campaign was fought with small resources but a powerful message. Hundreds of thousands of leaflets were distributed island-wide, and Siri personally spoke at open air meetings at 180 different bus stations with a loudhailer.
The three TV broadcasts allotted to the USP must also have had some effect in publicising the case for socialism. In Nuraya Eliya, the USP got 1,631 votes, the highest score of any candidates, apart from the top two, in any area of the country. The only area where the USP got no vote was in Killinochchi, the heart of LTTE (Tamil Tigers) country - where only one person's vote was recorded, and that for Wickeremesinghe's UNP!
The USP will continue its work with trade unionists, with the Tsunami-affected people still fighting for justice, with the Tamil-speaking minority, and with the young people whose future hangs in the balance as long as capitalist forces rule. The USP, now proven to be the leading left party in Sri Lanka, will continue its tireless efforts to build the forces for a socialist alternative to the policies of big business, of the IMF and World Bank.
War or peace?
THE RESULT of the election is perhaps the worst it could be both from the point of view of the working class and poor people of Sri Lanka and of the Tamil-speaking minority.
Clare Doyle, Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)
Rajapakse has been in league in this election with two arch-chauvinist, anti-Tamil parties - the JVP and the JHU. Now the green light has been given for open attacks on Tamil-speaking people who make up 20% of the 19 million population (mainly situated in the north and east of the country). Already two incidents in the East have left a number of dead and injured.
In spite of professing, in a populist manner, to be against any more privatisation, Rajapakse has participated as a minister and prime minister in eleven years of a government that has carried through more privatisations than the previous UNP-led government.
The UNP candidate, Ranil Wickeremesinghe, was seen as more likely to re-start the stalled peace talks with the LTTE guerrilla forces fighting for a Tamil homeland in the North and East of the country. In 20 years of civil war, they fought the Sri Lankan army to a standstill. The overwhelming majority of the island's population are Sinhala, but few want a return to war or the communal violence of the past.
The United Socialist Party has always defended the Tamil-speaking minority against oppression, and defended their right to self-determination. They have always stood for the right of all parties and trade unions to operate in the LTTE dominated areas of the North and East and fought for the right of all Tamil-speaking people to vote. The USP, therefore, regretted the position taken by the LTTE to recommend a boycott of the voting.
Throughout the election, Siritunga explained how little difference there was between the two main candidates and that the openly pro-imperialist UNP could not be trusted to bring peace, let alone prosperity, to the war weary and impoverished population.
But, with a communalist elected as president, the situation is fraught with danger.
As Siritunga made clear in his speech at the Election Commissioner's office, he and the USP will waste no time in mounting the maximum opposition to the reactionary policies of the victorious candidate, arguing for the maximum unity of workers, poor farmers, fishermen and nationally oppressed minorities behind the banner of socialism.
For background and more on the results and perspectives following the election see www.socialistworld.net
In The Socialist 24 November 2005: