Sri Lanka: “After war, tsunami and corruption, they won’t vote for anyone”

Reply to article in The Observer (UK).

We are publishing a letter to the Observer (UK) responding to the article on Sri Lanka that they carried on Sunday, 30 October. It accurately reflects the sentiment in the make-shift ‘homes’ of the tens of thousands of Tsunami victims country-wide. The quote given prominence on the Observer web-site reads: “Sri Lanka goes to the polls next month, but in its devastated villages there is only anger and disaffection over unfulfilled political promises”.

But this and another sub-head saying, “They won’t vote for anyone”, give the misleading impression that there is actually no-one they can vote for. However, as readers of our web-site will know, the United Socialist Party (CWI Sri Lanka) is putting forward a candidate in the presidential election.

Siritunga Jayasuriya has been personally involved, since the fateful day of December 26, in tireless work in the Tsunami-hit areas, including in the actual village mentioned in the Observer article. The USP has energetically assisted the mass mobilisations of the Tsunami people which have forced some important concessions from the government. It has helped produce a campaigning broadsheet for mass distribution called ‘Tsunami People’s Voice’ and its members have earned enormous respect in the South and the East of the island.

The USP’s candidate is also the only one actively championing the rights of the Tamil-speaking people of the whole country, including challenging a court petition from outright communalists aimed at preventing many of them from voting (see article: ‘USP goes to court’, 30 October). The Observer correspondent seems to be unaware of any of this, hence the letter below.

“After war, tsunami and corruption, they won’t vote for anyone”

Dear Editor,

I recently visited the same Sri Lankan ‘village’ of Peraliya as your correspondent, Dan McDougall (‘Faith in democracy is another casualty of the killer wave’, 30 October). Here, and in other coastal areas of the South and East of the island, I saw the human suffering and anger he described, still tragically only too prevalent after nine months of government neglect. But I would take issue with one or two assessments in the article.

Firstly the United National Party candidate can hardly be called “left of centre”. Ranil Wickeremesinghe’s “globalisation” means a business-orientated, neo-liberal agenda, along the lines laid down by the World Bank and IMF. His peace-loving credentials are tainted, too, by the fact that it was his party in government in the early ‘80s which started the armed assault against the Tamil-speaking people of the North and East.

Secondly, the JVP – one of the allies of the “nationalist” government candidate, Mahinda Rajapakse – can hardly be described as “hard-line Marxists”. They themselves profess to adhere more to the teachings of Buddha than those of Karl Marx. They are Sinhala chauvinists – against the basic democratic right of national self-determination, defended by the revolutionary socialist leader, V.I.Lenin.

Thirdly, the article fails to mention that there is a candidate in the election whose party, the United Socialist Party, has been fighting steadfastly for justice for the tens of thousands of people like Chandina Sujeemwani in the article, who lost so much on 25 December last year. Ever since that “killer wave” struck, the USP, as well as giving direct practical assistance, has campaigned for aid and reconstruction to be under the control of elected representatives of the Tsunami people and their true allies from amongst the working and poor people instead of in the hands of bureaucrats and government politicians.

Newspaper reports in September, when I was in Sri Lanka, confirmed their worst fears of corruption and mismanagement. The Auditor General revealed officially that at most 13.5% of aid money had reached the people it was meant for. No more than 2% of destroyed homes had been rebuilt. A smaller scale scandal erupted over bottled water shipped from Malaysia for Tsunami victims being handed out to 6,000 lunch guests at a Rajapakse election rally on October 1st. Then Rajapakse himself, currently prime minister as well as a candidate, managed to get a court case against him postponed until after the election. He is accused of diverting Rs83million into a ‘Helping Hambantota’ fund run by him to curry favour in his southern constituency.

The cause of the homeless and hungry people of the Tsunami-hit areas of Sri Lanka is championed loud and clear by the United Socialist Party and its candidate, Siritunga Jayasuriya. It is a pity that the Observer’s correspondent in Colombo failed to pick this up. As we know in Britain, parties and candidates without the backing of big business or other vested interests have extreme difficulty getting their voice heard – within and outside their own country.

Yours truly,

Elizabeth Doyle

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