Sri Lanka: Elections being held in central Sri Lankan provinces

United Socialist Party challenges government over war and prices

USP team leaving Election Commissioner’s office on nomination day

Following on its ‘success’ in fraudulent elections in the east of the country, the Sri Lankan government has prematurely dissolved the two Provincial Councils in the North Central and Sabaragamuwa areas. The election is scheduled to take place on August 23rd.

The government is planning to retain power in these two provinces using the state machinery to show the world it still enjoys mass support in the country in its efforts to continue the war to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). All the main parties – those in the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), the major capitalist opposition United National Party (UNP) and the so-called left and Sinhala nationalist JVP (People’s Liberation Front) are contesting these elections. But we are the only party to attack the government and call for a united struggle of Sinhala, Tamil-speaking and Muslim workers and poor against war, against capitalism and against (anti-Tamil) communalism.

The United Socialist Party (USP) decided to contest all four districts in these two provinces so that the down-trodden people of the area would have a socialist choice and a left voice. Unlike during the elections in the East, the ‘Left Front’ is also standing and unnecessarily splitting the left vote. But in a number of previous elections, the USP, with its clearly socialist programme, has proved capable of attracting the highest number of left votes. It is in the district of Ratnapura (Sabaragamuwa province) that a member of the USP remains the only left and socialist elected councillor in the whole country.

Provincial Councils are headed by a chief minister. In these elections, the chief ministerial candidate matters very much as his image is projected by every party to attract voters. The USP decided to field its general secretary, Siritunga Jayasuriya, as chief ministerial candidate from the Ratnapura district for the Sabaragamuwa Province.

Siri’s standing will enhance the profile of the party in the province and in the Ratnapura district in particular. He is in the forefront of the on-going struggle against suppression of media freedom and harassment of journalists and his involvement will give a boost to the party’s campaign. Already it has helped boost the confidence of cadres and activists within the party and will help to restore the momentum built up amongst the leftwing, radical and progressive people in Ratnapura.

Ratnapura has been a leftist area for decades. Several prominent left politicians have been elected from this district in the past, and socialist ideas still have an echo and a following in the area. Hopefully, Siri and the USP will be able to exploit this situation and turn a new page in Sri Lankan politics, in the process giving a new lease of life to revolutionary Marxism in the country.

It must be stressed, however, that in the upcoming campaign we would have to face considerable constraints. The electorate is 2.1 million strong and votes for a large number of members under a system of proportional representation. In Ratnapura there are 24 places to be filled. We have to cover a large area and a large amount of human and physical resources are needed to mount a proper campaign vis-à-vis the main parties. In this kind of work, our main drawback is that we are not contesting on a level playing field. The big parties unleash a ferocious campaign, spending millions of rupees.

As Siri said at the Election Commissioner’s meeting on 14 July, and afterwards to the press: “All the big parties are spending millions. They are spending money to make money. Our party, as has been said by the Inspector General of Police in this gathering, is an ‘innocent’ contender, without power. We are the only ones not aiming to make money out of it. We don’t have any money and our involvement is totally a political affair.”

At the same meeting, Siri, on behalf of the party, was able to get the agreement of the Inspector-General of Police that the law about no leafleting in public places – streets, fairs and markets – would be waived. It was obviously impossible for a small party like the USP to do door to door leafletting throughout the area!

As a workers’ and poor people’s party, we have great difficulty producing just a few thousand leaflets and posters. 1,000 posters alone cost 9,000 rupees (£45) to produce and 10,000 leaflets would cost 20,000 rupees or £97. In an area of the size involved, we need much more than this!

We are aiming to sustain a team of election workers in the area and hold at least one public meeting with a stage, flags, publicity etc.. A lot depends on how much support we can raise. All contributions are extremely welcome to enable us to have an effective campaign and to build the forces of genuine socialism in our war-torn country.

(See previous articles on this site in relation to the May 10 General Strike and the recent elections in the East of the country.)

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July 2008