National Sections of the L5I:

Founding of Party overshadowed by abductions

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The founding convention of the Frontline Socialist Party, was held in Colombo on April 9th. The party is based on the 5,000 members of the Movement for People's Struggle who split from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuṇa (JVP, National Liberation Front) over the combined issues of collaboration with the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse and the oppression of the Tamil community.

The convention was dominated by the abduction of two prominent party members, Kumar Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Attygala. The two were both expected to be in the leadership of the new party and their seizure, it is assumed by state forces, was clearly an attempt to intimidate FSP members and supporters.

In fact, this latest example of unlawful detention only served to highlight the increasingly repressive character of President Mahinda Rajapakse's regime. In just the last six months, 56 opposition activists and investigative journalists are reported to have “disappeared” - often seized by teams travelling in the white vans associated with the security forces.

A wave of international protests, including demonstrations at Sri Lankan embassies and demands for the immediate release of the detainees, once again drew the attention of the world to the situation in Sri Lanka. Coming only weeks after a UN commission condemned the Colombo government for failing to act even on the results of its own investigation into the war crimes committed in the last phase of the civil war against the Tamils, these undoubtedly damaged Rajapakse's international image even further.

The subsequent release of both detainees on April 10, after the intervention of the Australian government on behalf of Kumar Gunaratnam, who holds an Australian passport, made a mockery of earlier government claims that their whereabouts were unknown.

Meanwhile, at the founding convention for the new party, its Chairman, Senadeera Gunatilake, told members that the foundation of their party was “the beginning of a new era to unite the socialist movement in the country for a struggle against the capitalist administration and to bring about social reform.” 
 He went on to describe the party as “the Sri Lankan segment of the global struggle against capitalism”.

The fact that other socialist organisations, including the Socialist Party of Sri Lanka, the section of the League for the Fifth International, were invited to observe the convention is certainly a welcome change of attitude from leaders who were, until recently, part of the leadership of the JVP which had a long record of hostility to other left organisations.

Whether the new party can, indeed, play a role in the struggle against capitalism will depend on more than just a change of attitudes, however. As Mahinda Devege, general secretary of the SPSL, made clear at a press conference following the convention, “What is needed in Sri Lanka today is not just a new party for the 5,000 who have left the JVP but a new party for the whole of the working class”.