By Niranjala Ariyawansha
The Central Committee of the Sri Lanka Communist Party, was divided over whether to support President Mahinda Rajapaksa or not, at the forthcoming Presidential election. Of the 51 Central Committee members, 26, along with Minister DEW Gunasekera, supported the
proposal to back President Rajapaksa while 14 members voted against. One member was absent.
In an interview with Ceylon Today, Minister Gunasekera explains the Party’s present crisis:
Is it true the Communist Party is divided over the decision to support President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the upcoming Presidential election?
A: The Communist Party is not divided. But there can be different views. At our central committee, 26 members voted in favour of supporting President Mahinda Rajapaksa, while 14 voted against it. One member was absent. The central committee comprises 51 members. None of them will support the UNP candidate at the Presidential election.
There is a rumour that the 14 members who voted against the proposal to support President Rajapaksa are going to support a common Opposition candidate.
A: There may be one or two. Most of them will not do so. This is not a split in the party. We all are humans and it is always like that. We bow to the majority decision. We don’t expect them to quit the party. But, we will sack them on disciplinary grounds if they continue to go against party decisions. For example, if they support the UNP, we would sack them.
You banned publishing your party’s official newspaper ‘Aththa’, on Sunday 9 November due to this split. Am I right?
A: We did not ban, but suspended distribution of the newspaper copies, which had been printed. The reason was that the newspaper had attacked the decision taken by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party to support the President. The LSSP is in a coalition with us.
Did the editor of the newspaper, Dr. Michael Fernando, resign due to this reason?
A: Yes. He must take the responsibility. It is an internal issue of our party.
Are you supporting President Rajapaksa to protect your ministerial portfolio?
A: It is an insult to me and I don’t expect such questions from a journalist like you. We take decisions on our party policies. They are political decisions and not personal. This is not a referendum, although the media tries to depict as such. This is neither an election to change the Constitution. A Presidential election is a time when a change of power takes place. We take decision considering the policies of the candidates.
President Rajapaksa did not fulfil his promise to abolish the executive presidency. On what grounds is the Communist Party remaining in the UPFA in this context?
A: This is not an issue related to the Constitution. We do not trust the UNP. We have problems regarding our foreign and economic policies to consider, when taking a decision. We support Mahinda Rajapaksa, based on these facts. It has been the stand of our party throughout history.
Economically, the 10% of the country have taken over 50% of the national income. Of this 10%, 08% are with the UNP and the rest are with the SLFP. The middle class comprises 40% of the population of this country. They are divided equally between the UNP and SLFP. The lowest 50% shares only 4.5% of the national income. Of them, 30% are with the SLFP and the rest are with the UNP.
These figures display with whom the wealthy and the poor stand. The Communist Party stands with the downtrodden masses. That is how we are different from other parties. Abolishing the executive presidency is only one issue. Ranil Wickremesinghe will follow liberal policies tomorrow. What will happen? People may accuse us of supporting neo-liberal policies whilst being communists.
I asked why you remain in the UPFA despite President Mahinda Rajapaksa not fulfilling his promises.
A: Yes. He did not fulfil his promises. But, we must not mix the two problems. We fight against the executive presidency within. It was brought outside this time. It happened because of the campaign carried out by Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera. It is very good. We support it from outside. He first discussed it with us. We demanded that he not to link the issue to party politics because it could develop into an anti-government campaign. It happened so. They turned the campaign against the executive presidency into a campaign to remove Mahinda Rajapaksa. The SLFP may not support it in that context.
My argument is that the progressive elements of this country, including the SLFP, have voted four times against this. The JVP also was of that view. The UNP, TNA and Muslim Congress did not vote for it.
We are in favour of abolishing the executive presidency, but we are against removing Mahinda Rajapaksa. We must understand that President Chandrika Kumaratunga and President Mahinda Rajapaksa were in power for four terms. Chandrika could not abolish the executive presidency since she hadn’t a two-thirds majority. Mahinda also could not do it in his first term due to the same reason.
But now he has a two-thirds majority?
A: Yes. But he doesn’t do that. There must be a struggle for that.
Let us go back to history. In 1978, J.R. Jayewardene introduced the new Constitution in the context that a new political philosophy and a neo-liberal strategy had been introduced internationally. Chile implemented the change by force. JR could not take forward the economic liberalization and privatization as much as he had planned due to the war. Ranasinghe Premadasa and Ranil Wickremesinghe implemented those policies to a certain extent. Chandrika came to power in a historical context, of the Soviet bloc collapsing. She had only one majority vote in the Parliament during her first term. She had only a seven-vote majority during her second term. She discussed with the main Opposition parties, including the UNP and brought a package of constitutional reform in 2000. Ranil Wickremesinghe stepped back and the UNP set fire to the proposals in the Parliament. We were the only party that protested against the 1978 Constitution in the Parliament when it was introduced, we continued with it. We included the abolition of executive presidency in the manifesto of the Communist Party at the elections of 1994, 1999, 2005 and 2010. Mahinda Rajapaksa must implement it now. He can do it. He has a two-thirds majority.
Q: Is there difference between the economic policies of the UNP and the SLFP.
A: We struggled within this government and prevented privatization. We could not stop privatization in Chandrika’s time, but we could with Mahinda Rajapaksa. State sector economy has expanded within the past 10 years.
Q:Do you endorse the economic ties between China and Sri Lanka?
A: The world situation and the power balance are changing. For the first time in history, Asian economies control the world economy. This shift of power is advantageous to the small nations like us. We depended so far on the World Bank and IMF. But there is BRICS now to replace those two. BRICS comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa and is the world’s biggest organization now. They have established an alternate IMF. World economy is now handled by the financial capital. It is the reason for the world financial crises. The US economy collapsed due to this reason. This organization was established to safeguard the countries like ours. In that context, China is performing anti-imperialism.
Isn’t this dangerous to the countries like Sri Lanka?
A: It is dangerous for the imperialist countries and advantageous to us.
Does the Communist Party agree to the foreign policy of the UPFA Government?
A: Totally agree. That is why I cover the duties of the Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris. I was the acting Foreign Minister by the time the war ended.
But, Sri Lanka faced a lot of problems internationally during the present government’s rule?
A: It is true. But the reason for that is the ethnic problem. We do not agree with the government’s stand on ethnic problem. The situation would not get that worse if the problems of the Tamil people were resolved after the war.
The reason for the situation is the presence of the racist elements like JHU in the government. There was no politics of Buddhist monks until the JHU came. New factors also developed during the war.
When the government tried to amend the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, we struggled against it and stopped it. If we did not do so, the situation could be worse now. India could go totally against us.
Not as Minister DEW Gunasekera, but as a person, what is your stand on the abolishing of the executive presidency?
A: It is very good, but we have to be pragmatic in politics. We can abolish the executive presidency through a Parliamentary Act. The President has a two-thirds majority and we try to have him do it.
Eventually, this is related to the two main parties of the country. This kind of problem cannot be resolved without the consensus of the two major parties. That is the real truth. The problem has remained since the 1950s. They always come to power manipulating racism or any other issue. But they do not change anything. Almost all the minority parties supported President J.R. Jayewardene in 1977. He began to attack the minorities a few months after coming to power. That culminated with Black July of 1993.
Minority communities always thought that their rights would be safeguarded through the executive presidency. This situation stands against all the solutions.
Will you clearly support President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the upcoming presidential election?
A: Yes clearly. There is no compromise. We will not let the economic policies be turned back. It affects the entire country. There are no third forces. We are weak as the left.
Didn’t the left weaken since you allied with the right wing parties from time to time?
A: I don’t agree. There is theoretical truth in your argument. But see, Wickramabahu’s party, that did not ally with capitalist parties, must be bigger than this in this context. It did not happen. We must understand society. The left of this country is created through strikes and elections. We were traditionally strong in provinces like Sabaragamuwa and Southern. If we quit the alliance, our votes will go to the UPFA. We know our vote base and our policies are to safeguard our vote base.
Hasn’t the Communist Party and the other left parties weakened since you support the coalitions to safeguard your existence in the Parliament?
A: You are theoretically right. We have supported the capitalist parties since 1956. The Communist movement has collapsed not only here, but internationally. It happened in countries like India and Greece. LSSP also had that impact.
Has your party betrayed the principles for pragmatism?
A: Our long-term aim is socialism. We had a setback with the collapse of world socialist camp. There is no politics for building socialism in this country. We have the politics of building democracy. There is a collapse of the capitalist class in regard of it. SLFP is a capitalist party. But it has the representation of the lower classes also. That is why we support the SLFP let coalition. We do not betray our policies to the UNP. On the other hand, there are alliances worldwide. No party can come to power alone now. This is an age of multi party democracy and we are engaged in it practically.