National Sections of the L5I:

Sri Lanka Elections: No party worthy of a vote

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

On August 17, Sri Lanka goes to the polls in the first parliamentary election since the former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was defeated in the Presidential election last January. If opinion polls are to be believed, it is likely that the United National Party, UNP, will top the poll and possibly win an absolute majority of the 225 seats. Even without a majority, with the support of Tamil and Muslim parties, it is likely to form the next government.

This would bring to an end a period of minority government and represent the fulfilment of a US-inspired strategy to re-orient Sri Lankan politics. At present, parliament is numerically dominated by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, SLFP, of which Rajapaksa was the leader until his defeat. However, the UNP's leader, Ranil Wickremasinghe, is the prime minister having been appointed by the new president, Maithripala Sirisena, also of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, as part of the deal by which Rajapaksa was defeated. US involvement was a response to Rajapaksa's increasingly close ties with China and a central element in Obama's “Pivot to Asia” strategy. For a full account of this see:

The electoral system in Sri Lanka combines single member local constituencies with a List system. The two major bourgeois parties, UNP and SLFP, dominate two electoral alliances through which smaller parties can gain seats on the basis of national support for their alliance's lists. Two “Left” parties, the Communist Party and the Lanka Sama Samaaj Party, which was once a mass party and a section of the Fourth International, stand on the SLFP list, thereby disqualifying themselves from any principled socialist support despite their continued influence within the working class.

The only other party of national significance that has a background in the “the Left” is the Janathi Vikmuthi Peramuna, (People's Liberation Front) JVP, founded in 1965 by Rohana Wijeweera who turned against both Moscow and Beijing Stalinism and adopted a Castroite/Guevarist guerilla strategy, oriented towards the Sinhalese youth of the countryside. Opinion polls suggest it might gain a handful of seats. Until 2008, it was part of Rajapaksa's alliance and held government posts under him. Despite breaking from Rajapaksa, the JVP has remained a Sinhala chauvinist party which, although it has built and controls a number of trades unions, cannot be considered a “workers' party” and certainly does not deserve working class votes.

At the time of the presidential election, an attempt was made to present a common candidate of the “revolutionary Left” via the Left Front, a forum including smaller groups originating in Maoism and Trotskyism as well as the Frontline Socialist Party, FSP, a sizeable split away from the JVP that had explicitly rejected chauvinism and advocated socialist revolution rather than the Stalinist “stages theory”. Although the programme adopted contained many weaknesses, the Sri Lanka Socialist Party, the section of the League for the Fifth International, gave critical support to the candidate, Duminda Nagamuwa of the FSP, because the election campaign had the potential to advance the building of a new workers' party in Sri Lanka. (See )

Unfortunately, that potential was not realised; few of the organisations within the Left Front actively participated in the campaign and the FSP itself focused on a critique of Rajapaksa's record in government rather than using the campaign to present the agreed programme. While the campaign attracted good crowds, over 1,500 at the final rally in Colombo, thus proving that there was an appetite for a Left alternative to the main bourgeois parties, no progress was made towards a new party and the tally of votes, less than 10,000, underlined this.

The lessons of that campaign could have ensured a more constructive intervention in the far more open conditions of a parliamentary election – had they been learnt. In fact, no systematic attempt was made via the Left Front to draw any lessons from the experience and there will be no “Left Front” electoral alliance on August 17.

Instead, the FSP, as well as several tiny groupings, calling themselves parties, will stand candidates in various localities. While it is perfectly legitimate to make use of the heightened political interest aroused by elections, irrespective of how many votes might actually be gained, the value of such campaigns is determined entirely by the quality of the politics being presented. In other words, even a small campaign is worthy of support if it is promoting a revolutionary programme.

In this election, however, that is nowhere the case. None of the ostensibly revolutionary groups is standing for a coherent revolutionary programme, although some do indeed mention revolution. In fact, none of them has actually published a programme for the election, relying instead on brief leaflets summarising their particular priorities. In this they have simply repeated their practice in the presidential campaign, which we have criticised elsewhere (see: )

For its part, the SPSL, has used the occasion of the election to update and republish its Action Programme for Sri Lanka (see ) because it recognises that the primary task today is to win comrades to as detailed an application of the revolutionary strategy to Sri Lanka as we are able to give.

Our programme is a transitional programme, that is, it charts a strategy that connects today's struggles with the struggle for working class power by raising demands and methods of organisation that can develop the political consciousness and organisational structures of the working class to the point where they can defeat the forces of the capitalist class and establish their own rule. That is what we understand by revolution and it is to that strategy that we aim to recruit comrades in the class struggles that lie ahead, whichever party wins the parliamentary election.