Sri Lanka: Violent election campaign puts Rajapakse back in power

Grim period ahead for workers and poor.

With the main opposition candidate in yesterday’s presidential election, Sarath Fonseka, under ‘hotel arrest’, surrounded by hundreds of state forces, Mahinda Rajapakse made an unusually low-key acceptance speech to mark his ‘victory’. It had been gained through flagrant breeches of the law. His election opponent now fears for his life and the working class and poor can expect nothing from a continuation of the Rajapakse dictatorship.

This election was the first time since the end of the three-decade-long civil war that anyone could cast a vote for or against the president. His army had butchered tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in the course of last year. Fonseka was the commander at the head of that army.

Rajapakse (poster) returns to power after violent campaign

The ex- right hand man of Rajapakse presented himself in the elections as a champion of democracy who promised the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka a better deal. He got the support of the majority of Tamil MPs, who believed he had a chance of beating Rajapakse and carrying out ‘regime change’. But for Sri Lanka’s voters they represented as much choice as ‘between an axe and a machete’, as recent material on this web-site has explained.

Siritunga Jayasuriya, USP (CWI) candidate

United Socialist Party takes on the mass murderers

Maintaining its principled stand on the need for Sinhala and Tamil workers’ unity and the right of the oppressed Tamil minority to self-determination, the United Socialist Party managed to get its message across to thousands of people. There was some coverage in the media, but, with no rich patrons and tiny resources compared with the two ‘big guns’, it was unable to overcome the lies, distortions, misinformation and confusion that plagued this macabre election.

As expected, in the predominantly Tamil North and East, Fonseka received far more votes than Rajapakse. In the war-devastated Jaffna and Vanni districts, in spite of massive intimidation and election violence, including bomb attacks in Jaffna on election-day morning itself, the ex-Commander got more than twice as many votes as the president – 167,630 against 66,052. In the Eastern Province, he got 386,823 compared with 272,327.

In the predominantly Sinhala South, Rajapakse received a majority in each province, undoubtedly assisted by the massive infringements acknowledged by an Election Commissioner unable to cope with the volume of complaints. (The Commissioner let it be known in advance the he would step down from the job as soon as the election result was announced!)

At one point in the election, when government vehicles and personnel were being used openly to assist the president’s campaign, and when posters and cut-out figures of Rajapakse reached the totally illegal proportions of 8 metres high, Siritunga Jayasuriya suggested that, if the police could not deal with the infringement, the people should be encouraged to take things into their own hands and pull down the offending constructions!

Wrong policies

In the last presidential election, in 2005, Tamils were mistakenly ‘advised’ by the TNA, to boycott the vote. This was in line with the position of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, still at war with the Sri Lankan state at the time. This led to Rajapakse being elected almost entirely by Sinhala votes.

This time, too, the Tamil politicians made a fatal mistake. They could have recommended support for a candidate whose party – the United Socialist Party – had consistently defended the rights of the Tamil-speaking people throughout the war period, defending, in courageous campaigns, their right to self-determination and calling for united, working class action to defeat all chauvinists, war-mongers and representatives of the ruling capitalist class.

The TNA MPs are rooted in the existing class (and caste) society, promoting the illusion that the national aspirations of the oppressed Tamil people could be achieved without overthrowing existing class relations. A new Singapore in the Tamil homeland is the dream they have constantly promoted.

It is clear from the turn-out of Tamil voters in the North – as low as 25% in Jaffna – that many were not enthusiastic about voting for either of their oppressors. Very few Internally Displaced Persons, or the tens of thousands still in the detention camps, were registered to vote let alone able or willing to do so.

It is also clear that, even if there had been a ‘fair fight’ and Fonseka had won this election, not one element of real self-rule would have been granted the Tamil people. As Chris Patten, co-chairman of the ‘International Crisis Group’ warned before the election, "Tamil humiliation and frustration could well lead to militancy again."

Struggle for democracy and socialism must go on

The USP campaigned valiantly the length and breadth of the country, leafleting, postering and holding meetings. Its vote was severely affected by the misguided anti-Rajapakse vote of workers and poor people – Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim. Nevertheless, the more than 8,000 people across the country who voted for the USP were undoubtedly very conscious of the need for a bold socialist alternative. The USP, in this extraordinary election, recorded a higher vote than any other ‘left’ candidate and will face the huge struggles of the future with the same courage and determination they have shown in the recent, very ugly period.

For full reports and photos of the final days of the USP election campaign go to USP website here

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