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Election To End Crisis Ends In New Crisis
THE GENERAL election in Sri Lanka on 2 April failed to give either of the major party alliances a parliamentary majority. But the United Socialist Party (USP), the Socialist Party's counterpart in Sri Lanka, scored its highest ever number of votes in a general election and was referred to on the BBC World Service as "the emerging new left party in Sri Lanka today".
The 'United People's Freedom Alliance' - forged between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) of president Chandrika Kumaratunga and the People's Liberation Front (JVP) obtained 105 seats.
This was 46% of the total vote, compared with 38% for the United National Front alliance under the outgoing UNP prime minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe, which got 82 seats.
A majority in parliament must consist of at least 113 votes.
Following the result, there were frantic attempts to 'win over' (buy) parliamentary representatives to give the president's alliance a majority.
In February, the president dramatically dismissed parliament and called a premature general election, using her semi-dictatorial powers. She declared herself to be opposed to the government's economic policies without proposing any real alternative.
But her major complaint, leaning on the Sinhala majority, was that too much was being conceded to the Tamil Tiger representatives in peace talks to end the 20-year civil war. She had brought into her alliance the JVP which dresses its Sinhala anti-Tamil chauvinism in pseudo-Marxist, anti-imperialist rhetoric.
However, the pressure from imperialism's representatives together with pressure from the local capitalists and the Tamil-speaking people to continue the 'peace process', has forced Chandrika to say she will renew the talks. This means that today, the Buddhist monks who got nine seats refuse to support her alliance and tomorrow, huge strains will open up in the alliance with the JVP representatives.
The USP's Secretary, Siritunga Jayasuriya explained the USP's good results: "The election results show that we are the only force seen by serious, working, poor and Tamil-speaking people to be fighting from a socialist standpoint against both capitalist camps. Our increased vote has to be seen in the context of the left vote in general declining.
"We do not welcome this as a trend but we believe that those arguing for a less clear 'left' programme, including the 'New Left Front' (NLF), have lost ground amongst a layer of previously generally left voters...
"We stood in 21 out of the 22 polling areas and got a total vote of 14,660 while the NLF got 8,461.
"In Jaffna - the capital of the Tamils' 'Eelam' or homeland - there was huge pressure on people to give 100% support to the LTTE-backed list of the Tamil National Alliance. It was difficult to campaign door-to-door but we were able to hold important election meetings in workplaces like the hospital and the bus depot and managed to get nearly 300 votes, coming fifth out of ten lists!"
It was an historic day for Tamil-speaking voters of the North and East. They were determined to exercise the right to vote, denied them for 20 years by the civil war. The Tamil National Alliance got a fairly clean sweep with 22 seats from the North and East.
"As we explained in the course of our election campaign," continued Siri, "A victory for either of the capitalist blocks in this election will not eliminate any of the numerous economic and social hardships faced by the workers, poor and young people of war-torn Sri Lanka - North and South.
"It is early days yet, but there is no doubt now that we are securely on the political map of Sri Lanka. We feel that the clear independent class campaign of the USP offers real hope that a mass socialist party can be built once more which can lead a struggle to transform the lives of the working and poor population of the island."
For a fuller analysis, see the cwi website: www.socialistworld.net
In The Socialist 10 April 2004:
War and occupation
Socialist Party campaigns