Sri Lanka: Dictator can be overthrown!

Perspective for united struggle

This article is carried on the web-site of the United Socialist Party (CWI Sri Lanka) and was written before the general election taking place on 8 April. It analyses what is at stake in Sri Lankan society and the challenge before the workers’ movement.

What are the political perspectives for Sri Lanka in the coming period? Since 2007 there has been wave after wave of elections. After the parliamentary and provincial elections due in 2010, however, no further elections are scheduled for some time. Under normal circumstances, elections under capitalist rule provide an opportunity for the masses to weigh, measure and exercise their democratic rights; however in Sri Lanka, the ruling capitalist parties use elections for exactly the opposite purpose – to subvert, claw back and destroy democratic rights of the people. The Rajapakse regime uses elections to try to drown out and suppress the rising anger and militancy of the working class, youth and poor masses, and to bury the democratic rights of the masses one by one and the press freedom by arousing Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism in the country.

Amidst grave fraud and procedural malpractice, Rajapakse has been re-enthroned as president. The government has already brazenly declared that this second chapter of Rajapakse rule is to be extended to 7 years – contemptuously dismissing the constitution’s requirement that a presidential term be limited to 6 years. Not sated with even that fraud, the Rajapakse ruling gang demands of the masses a 2/3rds majority at the upcoming parliamentary general election. Why? Precisely to establish an autocratic political dictatorship, beyond all democratic control and accountability, with gigantic political power concentrated in its own hands.

"If the Rajapakse ruling gang succeeds in achieving a 2/3rds majority, they will drag Sri Lanka into a new ’Dark Age’."

There is not one iota of truth in the hue and cry being made by the government, of their alleged need for a 2/3rds majority in order to write a new constitution. As if a new constitution or other constitutional reform seen as of benefit to the country could ever fail to gain the unanimous support of the opposition in parliament! What resistance could a parliamentary opposition hope to muster against a constitution that is seen to be constructed according to the democratic aspirations of the masses? No! The real reason why Rajapakse demands of the electorate a 2/3rds parliamentary majority is precisely to ride rough-shod over all oppositionists and impose a new constitution in his party’s and family’s interests. In particular, it means to chauvinistically reject the heart-felt national aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people of the North and East, and bury their legitimate demands under the crushing weight of Sinhala-majority votes. At public meetings for the general election, Rajapakse asserts that, for rewriting the constitution, he will have to depend on ’Eelamists’ (Tamils) to complete a 2/3rds majority, if it is not given by the (Sinhalese) people. This is an extremely dangerous statement. He is trying to get the consent of the Sinhala majority to crush the democratic rights of the Tamil community. If the Rajapakse ruling gang succeeds in achieving a 2/3rds majority, they will drag Sri Lanka into a new ’Dark Age’.


Consider the sole previous instance where a government gained unlimited executive presidential power and a 2/3 parliamentary majority: the post-1977 JR Jayawardena regime. The 1978 constitution constructed under JR Jayawardena’s presidential leadership was a monstrous hammer to suppress all oppositional ideas, invalidate the national rights of the Tamil-speaking people, and destroy democracy. Even the limited but significant workers’ rights won under bourgeois democracy were annihilated by the UNP (United National Party) bosses’ government. Any representative elected by popular vote, whether to the district council, provincial council, or parliament, was freed of all control of, and accountability to, the masses. In other words, the Member of Parliament elected by the masses no longer bore even a shred of responsibility to the masses. Furthermore, JR Jayawardena would continually amend the constitution at his own arbitrary whim – a record 12 constitutional amendments – arousing the mirth of the entire world!

Even though it does not quite bear comparison with JR Jayawardena’s autocratic, depraved, draconian dictatorship, the sole previous similar situation was Sirima Bandaranaike’s so-called “United Front” government of 1970-1977. It must be especially borne in mind that in that period there was no Executive Presidency. The bourgeois United Front led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), suborning and further corrupting the LSSP and “Communist” Party into its fold, won a 2/3 parliamentary majority at the 1970 general election, becoming the government, with Sirima Bandaranaike enthroned as prime minister. The United Front regime constructed a new constitution in 1972. Here too the regime used its 2/3 majority and unlimited power in parliament to ride rough-shod over all oppositional ideas and create this new constitution according to its own arbitrary whims.

The constitutional reform demands proposed for Tamil national rights by Tamil bourgeois leaders of that period, such as Amirthalingam Sivasiththapparam, were contemptuously dismissed by the Sirima Bandaranaike United Front regime. The LSSP and its leaders, such as the 1972 constitution’s chief architect Colvin R. de Silva – in a bygone era stalwart champions of Tamil national rights and socialism – prostituted themselves by crowning Sinhala as the sole official state language and Buddhism as the pre-eminent state religion. By doing this, LSSP and CP leaders destroyed the final hope that the Tamil-speaking people had for a negotiated settlement.

This illustrates the two occasions where (since the British imperialists’ Soulbury constitution) attempts by the ruling capitalist enemy to create a new constitution merely dragged the country along the path to catastrophe. We must never forget that the 30-year near-genocidal anti-Tamil war was the poisoned fruit of the constitutions of 1972 and 1978 – death-traps for the masses constructed by the Sirima/SLFP and JR/UNP capitalist butchers. Even attempts made by the Rajapakse clan to form a government having a 2/3rds majority will bring catastrophic results to the country.

Rajapakse’s aims

It is crystal clear that Rajapakse demands a 2/3 parliamentary majority for constructing a new constitution precisely to create a dictatorship far exceeding even those two for bloodthirsty savagery. The “State of Emergency”, the “Prevention of Terrorism Act” and other such repressive laws are maintained uninterruptedly and enforced mercilessly. Large numbers of political prisoners languish in jails without even being charged. The main capitalist opponent to the Rajapakse government, Sarath Fonseka, is held prisoner under military law. The Rajapakse bosses’ regime murders media workers, journalists, editors; it has continually “disappeared” them without a trace; sets the dogs of state repression to hunt down oppositionists; perpetrates violent armed raids against offices and workplaces.

President Rajapakse recently announced, by extraordinary “Special Gazette Publication”, the establishment of many new detention camps for prisoners. It is obvious why, even after killing LTTE leader Prabhakaran and completely defeating the LTTE to win the 30-year war, the Rajapakse regime wants to enormously strengthen its repressive stranglehold over the masses. Prattling on about their alleged patriotism and nationalism in order to fool the masses, regimes such as Hitler’s and Idi Amin’s wrought genocidal catastrophes abhorred to this day by the workers of the entire world. The Rajapake regime strives to drive Sri Lanka’s future down the same blood-soaked blind alley.

The plight of the Tamil-speaking people

In a recent interview for India’s “The Hindu” newspaper, Mahinda Rajapakse stated that, the Tamil leaders elected to the new parliament (after the forthcoming April 8 election) should meet him and discuss the Tamil people’s problems. This clearly reveals president Rajapakse’s ignorance of, and un-interest in, the myriad burning problems confronting the Tamil masses. The TNA (Tamil National Alliance) published its election manifesto. It calls for, amongst other things, the reunification of the Northern and Eastern provinces, the devolution of police powers and the power to administer land, education and health care and the power to cooperate with foreign countries in the development of the North and East.

While nowhere near addressing the Tamil masses’ fundamental rights for national self-determination and freedom from racial oppression, the TNA bosses’ manifesto does echo many of the Tamil people’s national aspirations. However, Rajapakse and his gang are busy on the parliamentary election stage whipping up Sinhala national chauvinism. Thus it is absolutely certain that the forthcoming parliament will be incapable of even articulating the above national aspirations of the Tamil people. President Rajapakse is living proof of the complete inability of Southern capitalist rulers, elected solely by the Sinhala majority, to solve the Tamil national question.

With their daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, friends and relatives devoured and burnt to ashes in the hell of war, the mental anguish borne by the Tamil-speaking masses today is almost indescribable. Given the Rajapakse Sinhala capitalist government’s incapacity and unwillingness to solve any of their burning problems, there is a great danger that, even before the 7-year period of Rajapakse presidential rule ends, a new generation of Tamil youth will seek their national liberation in the blind alley of mere guerrilla struggle.

Fighting back

Time is short. In the United Socialist Party we fervently believe that the only road preventing the recurrence of such horror is the road of united mass struggle led by the working class, North and South, Tamil and Sinhala, women and men. Such struggle would lead behind it the peasantry and the oppressed masses to overthrow capitalist government and smash the capitalist state and achieve a workers’ and peasants’ revolutionary government based on a socialist programme for workers’ democracy.

Siritunga Jayasuriya, USP

The second chapter of Rajapakse rule will be, from its outset, a period of huge increases in the cost of living, of brutal repression against the working class, peasants, youth and fisher-folk, of rising unemployment and job destruction. The main parliamentary opposition, the capitalist UNP (United National Party), has neither a programme to counter globalised capitalist imperialism nor any capability of facing state repression. Accordingly, the UNP will invariably be driven along the path of long-term decay.

The Sarath Fonseka-led JVP (People’s Liberation Front) petty-bourgeois coalition will face pressure from its rank-and-file to oppose the repressive blows being dealt it by Rajapakse. Neither can the JVP tops escape the pressure of the working class for mass action against Rajapakse. Given Rajapakse’s personal hatred against the JVP and his psychological need for revenge against Sarath Fonseka, it is likely that state repression against the JVP will be intensified. Rather than falter and retreat in the face of such state repression, the JVP will probably be forced to take some steps to resist it. This will create an inevitable circumstance that compels all the anti-government forces to fight on a common programme for democracy and against government repression.

The working class and trade union movement will have to think of new strategies to combat the Rajapakse regime’s repression. It is absolutely vital to build a mass discussion on how to burst through the constraints of narrow party-based trade unionism and sectarian politics in order to build a broad fighting unity of the entire working class. The JVP and its affiliated trade union’s bureaucratic leaders and the sectarian trade union leaders, will spare no effort to secretly vilify, undermine and destroy all attempts by the working class to build a united democratic battle-centre for its struggles. To meet and defeat these conspiracies will be the challenge unfolding before the working class. The only way to build a united democratic battle-centre for the entire working class – a nationwide conference of workplace delegates – is by open and free debate within the entire working class movement.

This short piece does not intend to discuss the unfolding economic crisis in the country. Yet, from the hitherto-published economic data, it is perfectly clear that Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis is only set to worsen. Despite the enormous pressure of the imperialist IMF and the World Bank, the deficit has risen to 9.8%. Reluctant to face this and to reduce the budget deficit, the government delayed presenting the budget until after the election. The imperialists’ international lending agencies remain keenly cognisant of that fact. Rajapakse will capitulate to their demands for budget deficit reduction through a brutal programme of social cuts. Inevitably the government’s hidden agenda will include spending cuts, the destruction of public services such as education and health care, and the selling off of state agencies such as oil and electricity (privatisation in all but name). In this situation, the working class’s demand for a monthly wage increase of Rs10,000 (US$200) is seen by the government as a mortal threat. Even Rajapakse’s 2010 presidential campaign promise of a wage increase of 2,500 Rupees (US$50) monthly is exposed as a callous deceit against the masses and is now, in the election campaign, conspicuous by its absence.

Working class struggle

Only the working class, leading the oppressed, can fight brutal state repression and blood-soaked dictatorial rule, Rajapakse family nepotism, all-pervading corruption and wastage and the international capitalist bandits’ globalisation agenda. The Rajapakse government will not break up and collapse of its own accord. On the contrary: the bosses’ government will begin to disintegrate as the class war intensifies and comes to the fore.

Militant workers’ movements for struggle against repression and terror, for democracy and freedom, united with the Northern and Eastern Tamil-speaking people’s national liberation struggle, will give birth to a gigantic mass movement creating a revolutionary situation for overthrowing the regime. Only Marxists imbued with determination and vision, armed with the correct perspectives, rooted in the working class, can prepare for this situation and achieve such a world-historic victory.

Neither the capitalist UNP nor the petty-bourgeois coalition of the JVP and the retired general, Sarath Fonseka, who are dead against a political solution based on devolution of power, will ever be able to present an anti-capitalist programme that can unite the north and the south.

The only force that can challenge and overthrow the capitalist butcher government is the left movement based on the workers’ democratic principles and a socialist programme including the acceptance of the right of self-determination of the Tamil people. Such a movement will be based on the organised working class and will be capable of unifying all the oppressed masses, including the masses in the north-east and south of Sri Lanka, in the struggle to overthrow dictatorial rule in Sri Lanka.

We are appealing to all class-fighters to participate in this noble, historic and essential endeavour.

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April 2010