Sri Lanka: The division in the NSSP and the 2015 presidential election

Sri Lanka’s presidential election is on the 8th of January 2015. It is widely perceived as the last opportunity until 2020, at the earliest, for the legal-constitutional removal of Mahinda Rajapakse and therefore dismantling of his highly authoritarian, nepotistic, corrupt and neoliberal regime that strangles the masses.

The Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP), Sri Lankan section of the Fourth International, is divided in its perspectives and interventions. The two groups within the NSSP have counter-posed campaigns and alliances. This in itself ought to be a matter of concern to comrades of the International. Furthermore, in the view of the faction (publisher of Wame Handa/Left Voice newspaper), the strategic error of the group around comrade Bahu is of utmost seriousness, requiring urgent intervention by the International.

 Political Bloc with UNP

As forewarned by us, comrade Bahu has led his followers into a political bloc with the premier capitalist United National Party (UNP). While introducing comrade Sundaram Mahendran as the ‘NSSP’ candidate in the presidential election, Bahu duly announced at a media conference on 27 November that the purpose of the candidacy ... is to support the campaign of the ‘Common Opposition’ candidate, Maithripala Sirisena.
Until his political defection to the ranks of the Opposition on 21 November, Sirisena was the General-Secretary of Mahinda Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the largest party in the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) coalition, and a member of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Sirisena is being fielded with the support of the UNP – and other forces stretching from the Sinhala Buddhist racist Jathika Hela Urumaya, to dissident factions of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and Communist Party (which remain minor members in Rajapakse’s rainbow goverment), former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, the Democratic Peoples’ Front of Mano Ganeshan, the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist monk Sobitha Thero, intellectuals of Maoist and Trotskyist provenance, and liberal civil society organisations – in an attempt to break Mahinda Rajapakse’s previously unassailable majority, and deny him an unprecedented third term in office.

The central slogan of the common opposition challenge to Rajapakse is: to ‘abolish the executive presidency’. The centralisation of power in the hands of one individual is pin-pointed as the source of the wasting away of Sri Lanka’s liberal democratic institutions and norms. However, behind this demand is the true unifying one-point objective of an otherwise disparate and discordant opposition: the removal of Mahinda Rajapakse and his cabal from government, and by implication their substitution for it.
Comrade Bahu, who not very long ago described the campaign against the Executive Presidency as ‘ultra-left’ – perhaps affected by the lukewarm attitude of UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe to demands for its abolition – and his supporters within the NSSP have the merit of being more direct.

These comrades frankly state that their political line begins and ends with the issue of how to hasten the demise of Mahinda Rajapakse; while their political methodology is to join hands with anyone – including the UNP – in order to defeat the ‘fascist-style’ (as Bahu characterises it) Rajapakse regime.

It is not surprising that the Liberal-Left (the Left that thinks it is socialist but has actually collapsed into the political liberalism of NGOs and their donors) diagnoses the ills of the body politic in the person of the president and the office of the executive president. It is however, distressing when comrades of our Party abandon historical materialism by believing Mahinda Rajapakse and his form of rule to be the source of all evil, when in fact it is the toxic effluent of the capitalist system.

 Political Independence and Left Alternative

Conversely, the Wame Handa group (the public faction in the NSSP) has been on a different line of march. We have been engaged in dialogue with some of the remains of the revolutionary Left, principally the left-split from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP – Peoples Liberation Front) called the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP – Peratugami Samajawadi Pakshaya); and a variety of Trotskyist and Maoist small groups, to develop a Common Left campaign in this election.

It is already a small victory that some of us have come together to form the Left Front barely six weeks before a national election. We conducted a media conference on the 27th of November, which was addressed by comrade Linus Jayatilake among others. Duminda Nagamuwa, a young leader of the FSP (whose cadre are half the average age of the rest of the far Left) was introduced as our presidential candidate.

As comrade Nagamuwa explained: “[the ruling class] have divided themselves into two camps and are asking us to come to one. The same card pack is shuffled and put in front of the people to choose one, claiming it to be different. The bourgeoisie camp has not only failed to give a programme, the faces are also the same.”

Another FSP comrade, Pubudu Jayagoda, spoke for all of us when he pointed out that, “the Left Front is not just a front of Leftists. It is the front of the progressive, democratic, workers, farmers, youth, women and the oppressed people. It is with this idea that Comrade Duminda Nagamuwa will be contesting the presidential election as the candidate of the Left.”

Of course for us, the Common Left campaign is an attempt to consolidate unity among Marxists on the basis of a common programme. It is an initiative towards the reconstruction of the Left movement, even in the felt absence of a resurgent working class movement and revival of social struggles.

The FSP emerged as a clone of the JVP, except it was clearly opposed to popular frontism, parliamentarism and support for the war against the Tamil nation. It had begun rethinking the JVP’s reactionary stance on the Tamil national question. In part due to its dialogue with Trotskyists such as ourselves, it has shifted towards acceptance of devolution of power to the Tamil nation.

Concretely, it now recognises that the limited regional self-government represented in the provincial council system is a democratic gain for the Tamil nation, even while it (and indeed we) know it to be no solution to national oppression. The FSP has not been won to our position on upholding the right to self-determination. However, it has already taken a radical and progressive stance in sharp contrast to the JVP.

We are in no doubt that we are engaged in a gamble where the odds are against us. We are also in no doubt that it is right to try, even knowing that we may fail, than not try at all. We ask for the advice and support of the International. We urge the FI to constitute a Commission on the NSSP to correct the course taken by comrade Bahu and limit the damage done to the reputation of the Party and the International.

Linus Jayatilake, Niel Wijethilake, Dharmasiri Lankapeli, Jerard Gamage


The authors are members of the Wame Handa group within the NSSP.

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