Sri Lanka’s hard choice election

What are the choices that Tamils in Sri Lanka face at the coming presidential election on 8 January? For the diaspora community – if you had the opportunity to vote- who would you vote for?

Warmonger Mahinda Rajapaksa called the election early to secure his victory on his ‘lucky day’, according to an astrologer! But astrologist ability to predict the future has been proved wrong time and time again. And the ground underneath the Mahinda family tree was quickly shaken by one of the top branches breaking off – Maithiripala Sirisena. He is now promoted as viable challenge to Rajapkasa.

For the Tamils, however, there is no choice. Even if Sirisena wins, little will change. Yes, the chief war criminal will be replaced. But a new face with similar policies and continued repression will take over instead.

Tamil votes can be decisive in this election. But the victory for either candidate is in no way a victory for the Tamils’ struggle for their right to self-determination.

A small degree of constitutional change, including to end the executive presidency, is the only ‘promise’ being made by the ‘opposition’. National and minority rights are not even mentioned. Violent attacks on minorities are on the increase. Bodu Bala Sena, the extremist Buddhist-nationalist monk group that has stepped up its attacks on Tamil Muslims, continues to receive behind-the-scenes support from the regime.

The land grab and occupation of Tamil lands is being driven forward relentlessly.

The division between Sinhala and Tamil people has also been used purposely to divert both communities away from some of the social problems facing the masses in general.

To have the basic rights met – such as adequate food, decent housing, education and healthcare, employment and decent wages – has become a huge struggle.

Even if we leave aside national rights for a moment, who is going to fight for these social rights? Looking at our history we see a long series of corrupt governments implementing self-profitable projects for elite classes. This state is not representing the voices or interests of the people.

Voting in an election is a democratic right, but that right alone is not enough. The majority should have a real say in how we are governed after elections, too.

It is clear that both Rajapaksa and Sirisena will continue with savage cut-backs to public services, and with the privatisation of the public sector. Both will slash the money going on health and education, and force through price rises on essential items, such as oil and rice. Meanwhile the record spending on the military is set to spiral ever upwards.

Neither of those candidates deserves the vote of the Tamil-speaking people – or from any working-class, oppressed or poor person in Sri Lanka.

We should vote for someone who stands for the right to self-determination of the Tamils, and who opposes state repression, who demands a fundamental change to fix all problems that we face – someone who stands for an alternative method of running a society so that all the rights of everyone are met.

To our understanding only one candidate stands on these demands. Siritunga Jayasuriya, United Socialist Party, stands for the right to self-determination of the Tamils. He doesn’t just ask for the abolishment of executive presidency, but for the scrapping of the current, discriminatory constitution. Siri stands for a constitutional assembly of democratically elected representatives from all section of society, who are genuinely accountable to the people who voted for them.

Unfortunately, the Tamil leaders are not prepared to support such a principled position. In fact, the TNA is just sitting on the fence, its long silence showing its weak political understanding.

We all want to see the end of the vicious Rajapaksa rule. But that strong desire should not lead us down the road of picking a ‘lesser evil’ – especially when the main ‘alternative’ is still from the establishment and will continue to hold the Tamils down, just stuck between a rock and a hard place.

It is time we chose a candidate based on their programme – on their record of fighting for our rights, and on what they stand for.

8 January could the day when the first steps are taken to build a better society. We must defeat this government and get rid of this constitution. And also build a movement to win our rights, and fight to an economic and political system that meets the needs all – not the rich few at the top.

By Isai Priya