Sri Lanka: Presidential Election 2005 – United Socialist Party goes to court

Only left party to challenge attack on right of Tamils to vote

Two presidential candidates have petitioned Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court to prevent voters living in the ‘uncleared areas’ of the country from voting. This would disenfranchise most of the population in the North and parts of the East of the island which are still controlled by the forces of the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam. Under the current cease-fire agreement, the Sri Lankan Army cannot enter these areas.

The two – Nelson Perera of the Sri Lanka Progressive Front and Wimal Geeganage (Sri Lanka National Front) – are ‘dummy’ candidates. They are from fictitious parties and are running solely to get more air time on TV and radio for the candidate of the ruling alliance, the Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapakse. It is being challenged in the court by his main opponent, Ranil Wickeremesighe, who also, incidentally, has two ‘dummy’ candidates on his side for the same reasons!

The United Socialist Party (CWI Sri Lanka) immediately decided to make a case against the injunction. Three of us went to the court yesterday – Siritunga Jayasuriya, our presidential candidate, myself (a lawyer) and a well-known constitutional lawyer who has agreed to act for us. We were the only Lefts there to defend the rights of Tamil-speaking people.

The petitioners can only be described as communalists who know the Tamil-speaking people will not want to vote for Rajapakse. They cite a 2004 Monitoring Report, which said candidates had been unable to canvass in the ‘uncleared areas’ unless they were supported by the LTTE. But, as Siritunga, our candidate, said: “This must not be allowed to deny the ordinary Tamil-speaking people of those whole areas the right to vote. This is prior to the election. Just imagine what attacks against Tamils they will unleash if Rajapakse wins!”

We managed to stop the injunction being issued. The Chief Justice ordered the Election Commissioner to ensure all voters prove their identity, but if this means identity cards or passports, this will also prove difficult for the hundreds of thousands of people who lost everything in the Tsunami. The court meets again to review the decision on 7 November and we will be there again.

We got publicity in the media for our stand on this issue and Siri was seen this week in a long TV debate with three other politicians. One was a UNP ex-minister, one was a minister in the present UPFA government, and the other was the candidate of the Socialist Equality Party who spent all his time trying to do down the USP, instead of attacking the representatives of capitalism and communalism – the main enemies of all working and poor people.

The USP campaign

With just three weeks to go until polling day on 17 November, our election campaign is well under way! Teams of party members and supporters across the country have been organising open-air ‘pocket meetings’, factory leafleting sessions, door to door canvassing and mass distribution of the party’s programme. We have taken the campaign into many workers’ districts of Colombo and to the plantation communities of the central ‘Hill Country’.

In the Tsunami-hit areas of the South and East, we are campaigning in the street markets, in the villages and amongst the tent and shack-dwellers abandoned by the government. A special leaflet, produced in the two main languages – Sinhala and Tamil – exposes the scandal of the government’s failure to complete, or even to start a proper programme of reconstruction and rehabilitation. The Auditor- General recently reported that after a total of nine months, very few families got the promised Rs.5000 monthly aid. Only 13.5% of the total aid has actually been used for the purpose for which it was sent and just 2% of all destroyed homes had been rebuilt! Even NGOs from abroad were talking of pulling out because they cannot continue their work in the face of government obstruction.

No trust in Ranil or Mahinda!

We say no trust should be put in either of the major capitalist candidates to radically change the prospects of the poorest and most downtrodden in Sri Lanka or of the working class as a whole. Whatever they promise, given that they operate within the confines of a capitalist, profit-hungry system, both of them would be forced to carry out the dictates of the IMF and the World Bank – to privatise national assets and services and to cut budgets. Neither of them would be able to solve the huge problem for ordinary people of rocketing prices.

Nor, in spite of huge pressure from imperialist countries, would either candidate be able to resolve the national conflict between the Tamil Liberation Fighters (LTTE or ‘Tigers’) and the Sri Lankan Army, which has seen more than 70,000 people killed and over a million living as refugees. Three years of cease-fire have brought neither side nearer to a satisfactory deal. The fragile peace cannot hold unless the right of self-determination for the Tamils of the North and East is respected. But we know that the Sinhala chauvinists of the South, including the so-called Marxists of the JVP, do not accept this basic democratic right.

The overwhelming majority of working and poor people in Sri Lanka want peace. Yet, in the up-coming budget, military spending is to take more of the public’s money, not less. The Sri Lankan ‘Sunday Times’ head-line read: “Defence takes lion’s share of 2006 budget” in an article explaining that next year military expenditure should rise by 20% to Rs. 69,470 million (US$690 million). This is the highest ever figure and during a cease-fire! In our campaign we say money for public services, benefits for the poor and working people, not for war.

Our manifesto

This week we are holding public meetings to launch a new pamphlet we published, about socialist theory and practice, and to discuss our presidential election manifesto. 120,000 copies of the manifesto were printed in Sinhala and 80,000 in Tamil (The main part of it, in English, is on socialistworld.net).

We welcome all comments and questions. Our programme is not set in stone but tries to reflect the most urgent issues facing workers and poor people in Sri Lanka today. In it, and in our campaigns, we aim to offer a way out of the mess that is modern-day capitalism through the struggle for socialism.

If you live in Sri Lanka, why not join our campaign and join our party? You can see articles from our newspaper, Red Star, on the CWI web site. If you are outside Sri Lanka, you can support the USP with a donation to the campaign fund. Write to us by e-mail at: usp@wow.lk to find out details. If you regard yourself as a socialist, but have not joined the CWI-affiliated organisation in your country, why not consider doing it now?

An article explaining some of the background to the presidential election in Sri Lanka will be posted on the CWI web-site in the next few days.

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