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Statement on the State of Emergency in Sri Lanka

12 March 2018

Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Sri Lanka

The declaration of a State of Emergency by the government of Ranil Wickremasinghe and Maithripala Sirisena is further evidence, if more were required, that theirs is a government that cannot resolve Sri Lanka’s long standing economic and social problems.

The immediate justification for the State of Emergency was the wave of sectarian attacks on Muslim communities by Buddhist gangs, encouraged by the success of the former president Mahinda Rajapakse’s openly racist campaign in recent local elections and stirred up by clerical fascist organisations such as Bodu Bala Sena and leaders like Nanasara.

All reports confirm that, when the attacks began, police stood by and took no action to defend the communities under attack, in sharp contrast to their brutal suppression of peaceful student demonstrations against privatisation. This underlines the Sinhala chauvinism that dominates all parts of the repressive apparatus of the state, which was not affected by the change of government from Rajapakse.

What is clear is that the government used the opportunity provided by the attacks in Ampara and Kandy to give itself emergency powers that can be used throughout the island not just against the racist gangs but also to clamp down on the increasing number of protests and strikes.

More generally, that unrest, and the unusually high turnout for the local elections, show that, three years after the ousting of Mahinda Rajapakse and the subsequent parliamentary elections that brought Wickremasinghe and Sirisena to power, their government has not brought about the radical changes they promised in 2015. While corrupt ministers and officials walk free, political prisoners remain in prison and the Executive Presidency has not been ended, as was promised. This proves just how wrong those Leftist parties were when they abandoned all pretence of political independence and called on Sri Lanka’s working class to vote for the alliance of the two main bourgeois parties, the UNP and the SLFP.

The tensions within the government, plainly visible during the election campaign, together with the worsening economic situation facing the majority of the population will ensure that the coming period will be one of continued instability in which reactionary forces can grow.

Certainly, the State of Emergency, the curfew and the closing down of social media offer no fundamental defence of Muslim communities. The Left in Sri Lanka should condemn not only the Buddhist chauvinists responsible for the attacks but also the government itself for failing to deal with the underlying causes of social tensions and unrest which have been exploited by both Rajapakse’s SLPP and the clerical fascists.

Ultimately, those forces will also be mobilised against the working class wherever it fights for its own interests. The Left, therefore, should not only defend the right of communities to organise their own means of defence but call for a united front of all working class and progressive organistions to physically stop the fascists from organising and mobilising.

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