Sri Lanka: Elections in the teeth of violence.

The Provincial Council election in the East will enter history as one of the most rigged elections in Sri Lanka.

From the day of nominations up to the 10th May – the day of the election – there was a full scale terror campaign of intimidation and fear launched by the armed groups which are supported by the Sri Lankan government.

On April 25 one of the leaders of the United Socialist Party comrade S. Nagularaja, a candidate on Batticaloa list, was physically attacked in Batticaloa town by armed groups in front of hundreds of people. The ordinary people were innocent and helpless. After the incident they went to Batticaloa police station to make a complaint but four police officers took more than four hours to record the complaint. That was only done after the intervention from the USP headquarters in Colombo. So far there has been no impartial inquiry or any action taken by the police. This is one of many of hundreds of such incidents during the election period in the East.

If free and fair elections had been held in the East, there is no doubt that the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government could have been defeated easily. With all the intimidation and rigging that went on, still the USP managed to poll a significant vote. Out of ten constituencies where elections were held the USP managed to defeat the JVP in five. The JVP, which has just suffered a serious split, is a former left group which became a Sinhalese chauvinist party while still retaining some “left” rhetoric. We should understand that the JVP nationally has 39 MPs and two of them are from the East. In Trincomalee district, in the Mutur constituency, the USP came third out of 12 political parties.

The Eastern province consists of three districts – Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara. After the incidents in Batticaloa and Ampara, the USP candidates could not carry out their election campaign freely. Naturally this had a bad effect on the results. Where we had the opportunity to have some election campaigning in Trincomalee district, the USP obtained 1,309 votes. In Batticaloa the USP obtained 943 votes and in Ampara 296 votes. In the Ampara district where we have got a new layer of members for our party our vote was squeezed between the rival communal politics of the two main parties and a group with NGO affiliations standing directly against us.

In this election President Rajapakse’s UPFA formed a bloc with the TMVP, which split from the Tamil Tigers in 2004 to form an alliance with the government. May 16 saw S. Chandrakanthan, widely known as Pillaiyan, leader of the TMVP’s armed cadre, appointed as the Eastern Province’s Chief Minister. However the Provincial Council will not satisfy the needs of the working people and even though Pillaiyan is himself a Tamil it is difficult to see how he can represent any of the three communities in the province.

In spite of all that terror, the election results show that there is enormous room to build a left socialist alternative to both the capitalist UNP and UPFA parties and the communal JVP. In addition to the Sinhala communal politics put forward by the government party and the JVP, there were regional communal politics put forward by the TMVP and SLMC. What socialists have achieved in these circumstances in the east is remarkable. It is very clear from our experiences that a new layer in these areas are looking for a left alternative and the potential is there for us to build the United Socialist Party into a sizeable force.

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May 2008