National Sections of the L5I:

Electoral opportunism in Sri Lanka

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At its meeting on April 5, 2020, the International Executive Committee representing all the sections of the League for the Fifth International had the regrettable task of expelling its Sri Lankan section – the Socialist Party of Sri Lanka. The SPSL had been a member of the League for over ten years. The reason for the expulsion was its support for a candidate, Dr Ajantha Perera, in the Presidential election of 16 November 2019, whose campaign systematically misrepresented the politics of the League and whose public statements were neither socialist nor working class, even in the broadest sense.

The IEC decision brought to an end a lengthy dispute concerning electoral tactics, which made clear the deeply opportunist appetite of the section’s leadership and culminated in its refusal to accept the discipline of the League.

In August 2019, the SPSL proposed to stand a candidate in the then anticipated presidential election and reported this to the International Secretariat, IS, of the League. The IS advised against such a candidacy, arguing that it was not an appropriate policy for a small propaganda group with scant resources.

At the end of August, however, the SPSL forwarded to the IS a draft election platform, written by its General Secretary, Mahinda Devege, and a proposal that an environmental activist, Dr Ajantha Perera, a recent recruit to their ranks and formerly a ministerial advisor, should be the party’s candidate.

The IS replied that, while it continued to oppose standing a candidate, it would refer the question to the International Executive Committee, IEC, meeting at the end of September, some weeks before candidates had to complete registration. However, the IS also forbade the section to publish the draft election platform since it did not correspond in any way to the existing programme of the SPSL.

At the IEC meeting, a majority voted against the proposal to stand a candidate, with only the SPSL member voting for it. Despite this, the SPSL leadership decided that they would go ahead with the candidacy but accepted that this should be on a platform that clearly presented the party’s existing, revolutionary, programme. Recognising that, in itself, participation in the election was not a matter of principle, providing the platform was revolutionary, the IS accepted the decision.

Some weeks into the campaign, however, media reports revealed that the SPSL had registered Ajantha Perera as its candidate on August 28, long before the IEC meeting. Furthermore, in press and TV interviews, the candidate had clearly not represented the programme of the SPSL but merely a vague social liberalism. Examples of this can be seen at - https://www.bbc.com/sinhala/sri-lanka-49496767 and at http://www.ft.lk/opinion/Dr-Ajantha-Perera-pledges-a-corruption-free-nat.... In the light of this, the IS instructed the SPSL to expel her as a member and withdraw its support for her candidacy. This, the Executive Committee of the SPSL refused to do until after the election was over.

Since this meant that, at the election, the SPSL called for a vote for a candidate who did not represent the interests of the working class, the IS suspended the section’s membership of the League and referred the matter to the IEC, meeting in January.

That IEC upheld the IS decision and decided to extend it to allow the issues involved to be discussed by the League’s Asia Commission and at a full conference of the section, both to be held in Sri Lanka in March. In the light of the SPSL’s own conclusion that, while the choice of candidate had been an error, overall the campaign had been successful, it instructed the SPSL to undertake no further electoral activity until after that conference and the Asia Commission’s report to the April IEC.

In February, the EC of the SPSL informed the IS that it would not be able to participate fully in the planned Asia Commission because, despite the IEC instruction, it intended to begin campaigning in the parliamentary general election then planned for April.

In the event, the Covid-19 emergency prevented the Asia Commission meeting in Sri Lanka and also led to the postponement of the parliamentary election but, given the SPSL’s failure to recognise its own opportunist errors in the presidential election and its refusal to abide by the discipline of the League, the IEC concluded that it should be expelled from membership of the League.

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