On Saturday 10 July, the Provincial Council elections saw a much lower turn-out than usual.
Around half of all registered voters in the southern provinces (i.e. excluding the North and East) stayed at home. All major parties lost votes. The ruling New Freedom Alliance lost more than 600,000 votes compared with what they received in the general election in April of this year.
The United Socialist Party, however, the section of the Committee for a Workers’ International in Sri Lanka, was not only the only party to increase its vote; it nearly doubled it in the three months since the general election. The USP contested fourteen districts – all those where elections were being held, except, by agreement with other so-called left forces, the capital, Colombo. In those 14 areas, 21,300 people voted for the clear socialist alternative of the USP; in the April general election the figure was 12,210.
The USP was the only left party standing in these districts but it was hampered by a severe lack of resources and no official broadcasts on the radio, T.V. or in the press.
In Colombo, on the other hand, a serving provincial council for the NSSP or, Vickremabahu Karunaratne had many vehicles for his campaign and fifty people working for him as the top New Left Front candidate and yet he failed to hold his seat. He was not putting a clear socialist alternative to the two major capitalist camps and got a much reduced total of 3,024 votes or 0.46% of the voting electorate. It shows the bad reputation they had during the past period amongst the working class and poor people.
By contrast, in Nuraya Eliya the USP got a marvellous 3,896 votes or 1.43%. This was an increase over April of 2,470 votes and meant coming just 160 short of getting an elected representative. In Galle the USP vote went up by 1,822 from April to July to 2,278 or 0.60%. In many other districts, the the USP vote also increased dramatically.
The suicide bombing attempt in Colombo last week on an MP and cabinet member from the North – a Tamil who stood for the pro-New Freedom Alliance EPDP – has led to army check-points reappearing on the streets of the capital and widespread harassment of Tamil people. The Sinhala chauvinist JVP – a partner in the government of Chandrika Kumaratunga – has started an all-island poster campaign against any interim deal with the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Elam (LTTE). At the same time, Chandrika herself is professing her commitment to the ‘peace process’ aimed at ending the 20 year war in the North and East of the island. After two years of a cease-fire and no progress, LTTE leaders are openly expressing their impatience and making hardly veiled threats of resuming the armed struggle.
Tension is mounting. After the provincial council elections, members of the JVP attacked the house of one of the USP chief candidates in Badulla. It is a predominantly Tamil-speaking tea plantation area, but the USP candidate was a Sinhala plantation worker. His door was broken down and his wife and children screamed and shouted at.
Being part of the ruling alliance, the JVP trebled its representation on provincial councils, getting a total of 72 councillors. It will undoubtedly use its apparent success to step up threats against its political rivals and the Tamil minority population in the South. The USP will be vigilant but will also continue building a party that counters the false Marxist ideology of the JVP with a clear programme of working class policies. It will continue to defend all the rights of the Tamil-speaking people including their right to self-determination in the North and East of Sri Lanka.
During the election campaign the comrades of the USP gained many new supporters. They have continued recruiting new members to the party and building the branches island-wide. All the main newspapers have commented on the increased vote for the USP but they continue to give no publicity to the actual programme and policies that are obviously winning over workers and youth to the genuine ideas of socialism.