But victory of communalist candidate poses danger for working class
From the time the first results started coming in for the presidential election in Sri Lanka, the candidate of the United Socialist Party (CWI in Sri Lanka), Siritunga Jayasuriya, was in the top three. And he stayed there, getting a total of 35,425 votes! He gained maximum publicity today, 18 November, with a fighting speech carried live on national TV. This came immediately after the acceptance speech of Mahinda Rajapakse, Sri Lanka’s present prime minister.
The opposition leader, and close runner-up, Ranil Wickeremesinghe, did not arrive at the Election Commissioner’s office and is challenging the result. He got 4706366 votes (48.4%) to the 4,887,152 (50.3%) of the victor.
Addressing Rajapakse, Siritunga Jayasuriya declared: “This is the first time in Sri Lanka that a president has been elected on the votes of the Sinhala (majority) population. They have given a political message to you. The Sinhala Buddhist zealots have dominated your election platforms. As president, you have a duty to control these forces which you have encouraged. Their hatred of the Tamil-speaking people, including the Muslims, poses a huge danger in this country.
“None of the ordinary working and poor people wants war again. They feel bad things are now in store. You have made a lorry-load of promises to this country. If they are not implemented, the United Socialist Party, with Siritunga Jayasuriya, will go to the streets. We will mobilise behind the demand that they be implemented or that you step down.
“Some of the main TV stations and newspapers have been so careful not to mention the name of our party or its candidate. I say a heart-felt thank you to all those who, in spite of this, voted for the United Socialist Party.”
Siri explained to the media, all keen to interview him now, that the USP election campaign was fought with small resources but a powerful message. Hundreds of thousands of leaflets were distributed island-wide, and Siri personally spoke at open air meetings at 180 different bus stations with a loud-hailer.
The three TV broadcasts allotted to the USP must also have had some effect in publicising the case for socialism. In Nuraya Eliya, the USP got 1,631 votes, the highest score of any candidates apart from the top two, in any area of the country. The only area where the USP got no vote was in Killinochchi, the heart of LTTE (Tamil Tigers) country – where only one person’s vote was recorded, and that for the UNP!
More details of the results and the perspectives for Sri Lanka following the election will be carried on socialistworld.net (For background to these elections, see articles carried recently).
Siri’s message today (18 November) has been that the USP does not stop campaigning now that the election is over. The party will continue its work with trade unionists, with the Tsunami-affected people still fighting for justice, with the Tamil-speaking minority, and with the young people whose future hangs in the balance as long as capitalist forces rule. The USP, now proven to be the leading left party in Sri Lanka, will continue its tireless efforts to build the forces for a socialist alternative to the policies of big business, of the IMF, World Bank.
War or peace?
The result of the election is perhaps the worst it could be both from the point of view of the working class and poor people of Sri Lanka and of the Tamil-speaking minority. Rajapakse has been in league in this election with two arch-chauvinist, anti-Tamil parties – the JVP and the JHU. Now the green light has been given for open attacks on Tamil-speaking people, and already two incidents in the East of the country have left a number of dead and injured.
In spite of professing, in a populist manner, to be against any more privatisation, Rajapakse has participated as a minister and prime minister in 11 years of a government that has carried through more privatisation than the previous UNP-led government.
The UNP candidate, Ranil Wickeremiesinghe, was seen as more likely to re-start the stalled peace talks with the LTTE guerrilla forces fighting for a Tamil homeland in the North and East of the country. In 20 years of civil war, they held the Sri Lankan Army to a standstill. The overwhelming majority of the island’s population are Sinhala, but few want a return to war or the communal violence of the past.
The United Socialist Party has always defended the Tamil-speaking minority against oppression, and defended their right to self-determination. They have always stood for the right of all parties and trade unions to operate in the LTTE dominated areas of the North and East and fought for the right of all Tamil-speaking people to vote.
The USP, therefore, regretted the position taken by the LTTE to recommend a boycott of the voting. Throughout the election, Siritunga explained how little difference there was between the two main candidates and that the openly pro-imperialist UNP could not be trusted to bring peace, let alone prosperity, to the war weary and impoverished population.
But, with a communalist elected as president, the situation is fraught with danger. As Siritunga made clear in his speech at the Election Commissioner’s office, he and the USP will waste no time in mounting the maximum opposition to the reactionary policies of the victorious candidate, arguing for the maximum unity of workers, poor farmers, fishermen and nationally oppressed minorities behind the banner of socialism.