Sri Lanka: The crisis in Sri Lanka and the role of the Left

The present government crisis in Sri Lanka arises out of the JR Jayawardene constitution, adopted in 1979, which gives dictatorial executive powers to the country’s President.

From the beginning, the left within the working class and other democratic forces in the country were against this executive presidential system. But it is not only that; this constitution has undermined the limited rights of the capitalist parliamentary system as well.

All the measures against the working class and the poor, including the privatisations and cuts implemented under the direction of the World Bank, were carried out with the use of the executive presidential powers. Also, the present war was launched without reference to parliament, under the provisions of this constitution.

For these reasons, right from the beginning, no matter who has been the president, we have demanded that this constitution be changed.

Unfortunately, some so-called left parties say today that Chandrika (Kumaratunga, Sri Lanka’s president) should use her powers to “save the country”. This kind of thing can be said only by opportunists or idiots.

On the other hand, the UNF (United National Front, led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremasinghe) did not want to change this dictatorial constitution. They are waiting for their chance to get the presidency. Also, the UNF government has had many chances to impeach the Chief of Justice, appointed by Chandrika, who is facing serious corruption and other charges. But Ranil’s government did not take any action against him. But, finally, when it suited them, and they wanted their own Chief of Justice in position, they brought impeachment against the Chief of Justice and his position was challenged by the Supreme Court. For the UNF government, this move represents a clear interference with the independence of the Judiciary.

On 4 November, President Chandrika sacked three ministers and took those ministries into her hands, including the Ministry of Defence. This was the beginning of the present crisis in Sri Lanka. It took place immediately after the presentation of the proposals of the LTTE (Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam) for the setting up of an Interim Council for the North and East. This was not accidental. The step is seen as a green light for the anti-Tamil communal forces on whom Chandrika is at present leaning.

In 1994, President Chandrika started talks with the LTTE which broke down in 1995. Then Prime Minister Ranil re-started talks with the LTTE in 2002. Whichever capitalist leaders come to power in Sri Lanka, they are put under more and more pressure by Western imperialism to come up with a solution to the national question. But it is also always the case that whichever of the pro-capitalist parties – such as the UNP or the PA – are in opposition, they attempt to sabotage any negotiations with the Tamils.

As we explained before, immediately after the LTTE had put forward their proposals for an interim council, the constitutional crisis broke out. Whether the LTTE proposals can be accepted or not is a different question. Everyone has the right to put forward their own views on the proposals.

Chandrika’s move, however, again undermined discussion of the LTTE’s proposals. In reality, talks between the LTTE and the government have collapsed. Norway peace-brokers have said that they cannot engage in the peace process as long as the government crisis in the South is not solved. The extreme communal forces such as Sihala Urumaya and the JVP were demanding to throw the LTTE’s proposal into the dustbin and to send the Norwegians back home. This has now happened now in a different way, through Chandrika’s move to take more power in her hands.

Both Chandrika and Ranil are now under pressure again from international capitalists to work together and to form a National Government to restart the ‘peace process’.

The UNF government is implementing the World Bank’s programme in a very rapid manner – a policy that has received Chandrika’s full support. Under these circumstances, Western powers say that they should work together. But because we are dealing here with power-hungry politicians, these two main capitalist parties find it difficult to work together.

Capitalism cannot solve national question

Marxists, based on the working class, have explained, again and again, that the weak capitalist class in Sri Lanka cannot solve the national question. We have seen in the recent past that the capitalist class is not even in the position to find some sort of temporary agreement. The main reason for that is the fact that the Sinhala capitalist class is dependent on the Sinhala electorate to come to power.

The left and the working class have a crucial role to play in this situation. Marxists have always explained that the national question can only be solved under a left government conducting socialist policies. Unfortunately, the working class has paid a high price for the class collaboration politics that were implemented way back in 1964.

What has happened since then is that the traditional ‘left’ parties have not initiated any independent working class policies but have always backed capitalist parties. This is the pattern of so-called left politics over the past decades.

Fighting against communalism and defending the rights of the Tamil-speaking people does not mean that the working class should support any capitalist parties who say they can solve the national question. But what happened in 1987-89 is that the traditional left parties and all other ‘lefts’ supported the Indo-Lanka Accord and became part of it. Through that, the left became identified with the most reactionary J R Jayawadene UNP regime. At this crucial juncture, the left must not repeat these same mistakes.

While we campaign vigorously against the war and against the Sinhala chauvinist forces, we demand that the talks with the LTTE should be re-started immediately. The right to self-determination of the Tamil-speaking people has to be the basis for any peace talks. At the same time, we appeal to the working class and the poor people in the North and East to rally behind the banner of socialism, to overthrow the capitalist system in order to fulfill the demands of the Tamil-speaking people.

The left today has the duty to show a way forward for the working class and the poor masses. That is why it has to break from any class collaborationist policy and move to form an independent mass working class party with a socialist programme – the only force with which to abolish capitalism.

Siritunga Jayasuriya, Secretary of the United Socialist Party (cwi)

From the ‘Revaya’ newspaper published in Sri Lanka on 16 November 2003.

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December 2003