By Vijaya Kumar –
The 79th Anniversary of Sri Lanka’s oldest political party, the Lanka Samasamaja party (LSSP) falls on December 18th. The party of NM, Colvin, Leslie and Bernard not only played a major role in the anti-imperialist struggle but was also responsible for fighting for and obtaining many of the benefits enjoyed today by the working class and the ordinary people of Sri Lanka. Most of them have been diluted and even been made irrelevant on World Bank and IMF advice by successive governments in their quest for growth and high per-capita GDP, economic objectives which do not appear to trickle down to improve the standards of living of ordinary people. The right to strike and to demonstrate is often restricted by the state through its police and Courts on the basis that it would cause inconvenience to the public. The free education which we enjoyed is underfunded and offers little prospect for the improvement of the education and future prospects for the children of the rural poor and is fast being replaced by “international” schools and private Universities encouraged by the state. The free health service has over the years been progressively privatized.
The Party itself enjoyed the confidence of the working class and the respect of the general population for its adherence to democratic principles, its struggles on socially relevant issues, its stand on anti-working class and anti-people policies and above all the integrity and incorruptibility they showed in their politics. Its principled stand made it at that time the Party with which the intellectual community and educated youth identified themselves.
NM was the first to draw attention to the authoritarian nature of the Executive Presidency and the consequent dangers to the democratic character of the State posed by the 1978 Constitution. NM felt that a new constitution that abolishes the Executive Presidency and restores power to Parliament was the only way out, a view that is now generally accepted in the country.
However the Party that took a principled stand in all its policies faltered in September 2010 when its two members of Parliament against the decision of the Party voted in favour of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Although the Communist Party too voted for the amendment, they have since, unlike the LSSP, apologized to the people for what they now consider was an incorrect decision. In December 2012, one of the two members of Parliament again went against the Party decision again and voted for the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake.
Although the LSSP members of Parliament broke Party discipline to shamelessly accede to the President’s request, the Party itself has not gained anything in return. The party’s present General Secretary, Tissa Vitarana headed the All Party Representatives Conference (APRC) mandated to develop a “home-grown new Constitution” which would provide “a comprehensive approach to the resolution of the national question.” The APRC met from June 2006 to June 20d09 and through the determination and dedication shown by Tissa Vitarana and other members of the Conference, its final report which provided a possible solution to the national question was handed over to the President in August 2009 but no action has been taken on it with even doubts cast by the Presidential Secretariat as to whether it was received. Prior to this, in January 2008, the APRC was requested to provide an interim report which could be implemented without Constitutional amendments and as requested by the President, the interim report merely recommended the implementation of the 13th amendment to the extent possible. The interim report was given the widest publicity and used to convince the international community that action was being taken. However the efforts of the APRC and Tissa Vitarana in compiling the final report were in vain as events had overtaken them with the Government feeling that no solution was necessary since the LTTE had been comprehensively defeated. Not only were the recommendations of the APRC ignored but to add insult to injury, Tissa Vitarana was not even appointed to the Parliamentary Select Committee set up last year seemingly for a similar purpose.
In November 2010, Tissa Vitarana who was the Minister of Science and Technology was unceremoniously kicked upstairs to become Senior Minister of Scientific Affairs. The ten Senior Ministers appointed on that day were not allocated any departments or institutions and shared two Ministry Secretaries with offices in a three storey building in Kollupitiya. The LSSP accepted this change with no protest. Compare this with the stand LSSP took in 1975 which left the Government with a public show of protest rather than accede to Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike’s request that one of its three Ministers, NM relinquish the Finance Ministry, where his policies were hurting the capitalist class of the country and accept instead the Ministry of Trade and Commerce.
Early this year, the Party passed a resolution giving substance to NM’s stance on the Executive Presidency demanding that no more Presidential elections be held and requesting President Rajapakse to amend the constitution to establish a Parliamentary system of government. This became the main slogan of the Party on May Day 2014 and the position the Party took consistently since then. However in October this year, the Central Committee of the Party which had met to consider three documents to discuss future policy of the Party were confronted in the late evening by a resolution, for which no prior notice had been given. The resolution hastily read out by the Chairman was for the LSSP to support Mahinda Rajapakse at the Presidential election. At that time no decision to hold an election had been made and no candidates had been announced but the Party in spite of its previous resolution against the holding of a Presidential election which had not been rescinded passed an improper hasty resolution supporting an undeclared candidate for an undeclared election. The only conclusion one could come to was that the resolution was inspired by elements outside the Party who were trying to use the Party to offset the negative effects of the resolutions passed by the JHU and its threat to leave the Government.
The LSSP of today is no more the Party of NM, Colvin, Leslie and Bernard. We have had in its place a Party since 2010 with no independent ideas, a party which is amenable to tuning its policies and decisions to satisfy the needs of the President. The LSSP of today has no problem holding joint press conferences with the likes of Wimal Weerawansa and side kick Muzzamil denouncing the challenge to the President as a deep seated plot of imperialist forces to re-colonialize Sri Lanka. The extent to which the Party has departed from the commitments of its old leaders was shown by Tissa Vitarana even condoning corruption while defending the prevailing system stating it was a characteristic of countries on the path to development.
I believe the present LSSP has no right to celebrate the 79th Anniversary of the Party which stood firmly against the policies it now nurtures and espouses, especially the position it now takes which directly contradicts NM’s views on the Executive Presidency. It would have been more appropriate for the present LSSP to have celebrated the 4th anniversary of the remodelled Party on September 8th, the day which it should revere as it was the day its members of Parliament raised their hands in support of the 18th Amendment and ensured that they would always have to fall in line with Presidential diktats.