Sri Lanka: Presidential Election campaign begins

Socialist candidate’s “red three-wheeler” makes history

Presidential Election campaign begins

The presidential election campaign in Sri Lanka got into full swing last Friday and so did the campaign of the United Socialist Party (CWI, Sri Lanka). It was Nomination Day – a grand ceremonial occasion, when every candidate must hand in their papers to the Election Commissioner and wait for their nomination to be accepted.

More than 70 USP members and supporters took the day off work to accompany their candidate to the nomination ceremony. Many travelled overnight from around the country. They would not be disappointed by the big impression their candidature made – especially on working and poor people who may have been watching the live coverage on TV.

The two main contenders – Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapakse and United National Party leader, Ranil Wickeremesinghe – arrived in big cars, accompanied by hundreds of armed police. As the pro-government newspaper, the ‘Daily News’, reported on its front page the next day: “Coincidentally, one of the candidates, Siritunga Jayasuriya, whose United Socialist Party symbol is the trishaw, arrived in a red three wheeler.”

It was no coincidence but a deliberate gesture! With red flags flying, and two party members accompanying the candidate, the working people’s form of transport was in stark contrast to the brand new bullet-proof Mercedes ordered for the occasion by Mahinda Rajapakse (at a cost of Rs 1.8million).

On his way into the building, Siritunga was caught on camera, remonstrating with the officials and complaining about the traffic chaos caused in the capital by incompetent security arrangements that blocked off about ten main roads. Thousands of working people had been inconvenienced that day by the bungling of the authorities, he complained.

Inside the main hall, Siritunga was approached by both of the main candidates. Mahinda Rajapakse asked to be “left out” of the USP’s campaign, indicating a fear that the criticisms of the socialists could seriously damage his prospects. Ranil confided: “If these people [the PFA] had done a good job on the Tsunami, we would have no chance in this election…but fortunately [!] they haven’t”.

Tsunami an election issue

The government’s appalling record on Tsunami aid is undoubtedly an election issue. The USP, and the Tsunami People’s movement, clearly have no intention of dropping its campaign against corruption and inefficiency. How would the arch-capitalist Ranil solve this and the many other burning questions in the election? Neither of the two main contenders for president, basing themselves on rapacious big business and property-owners, can fulfil the dreams of the overwhelming majority of working people.

By contrast, the USP’s campaign shows a way out on a socialist basis. At the end of the nomination proceedings, Siritunga Jayasuriya, anxious to get to his supporters outside, was seen remonstrating with officials again, insisting they: “Let the little people go first!” In seconds, the Prime Minister’s hand was on Siri’s shoulder. “Siri, you’re not so small!

Nevertheless, the thousands of supporters bussed in by the big parties, with their free t-shirts – in green or blue colours, as appropriate – waiting to congratulate their candidates, far outnumbered the USP contingent. But none could have given a warmer and more enthusiastic reception to their representative than the USP supporters in their red shirts and caps, when Siritunga stopped his three-wheeler to address them. The USP is aiming to recruit many new members to its ranks in the six-week long election campaign. Last Friday, it showed itself to be in a confident, fighting mood, and ready to meet the big challenges ahead.

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