The 2015 presidential election in Sri Lanka was a major political event for the working class throughout the region and internationally.
The outgoing president in the election was Mahinda Rajapakse. Rajapakse had called the poll two years early after ramming through a constitutional amendment allowing him to stand for a third term. This was aimed at consolidating his regime amid growing opposition to his IMF-dictated austerity policies and police-state methods, as well as an accelerating US-led “human rights” campaign targeting his government over the military’s war crimes in the long-running communal war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that ended in 2009.
Rajapakse’s crime, from the standpoint of US imperialism and the Obama administration, was not the mass murder of Tamil civilians during the civil war against the LTTE, but the relations his government developed with China. He took billions of dollars in investment from Chinese state corporations and, in defiance of US and Indian protests, began assisting China’s ambitions to increase its naval presence in the Indian Ocean by granting its submarines and warships access to Sri Lankan ports.
Once Rajapakse had called the election, Washington sprang its trap. His health minister Maithripala Sirisena, who was general secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), deserted the government, joined hands with the pro-US opposition United National Party (UNP) and declared that he would stand as the “common opposition candidate.” The behind-the-scenes machinations by the US to oust Rajapakse were made apparent on election day. Secretary of State John Kerry called Rajapakse to instruct him to keep the voting “free from violence and intimidation” and “ensure a peaceful handover of power” if he lost.
The US regime-change operation against Rajapakse was bound up with the accelerating pace of Obama’s “pivot to Asia” aimed at undermining and militarily encircling China.
A particularly pernicious role in assisting the US regime-change operation was played by the pseudo-left parties: the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP), the United Socialist Party (USP) and the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP). As in the Ukraine in 2014, where the international pseudo-left proclaimed an imperialist conspiracy to be a “democratic revolution,” in Sri Lanka they portrayed Sirisena as the candidate of “democracy” against Rajapakse’s “dictatorship.”
While all three parties stood their own candidates for president, they remained mute on Sirisena’s pro-US agenda and raised only mild criticisms of his political history. No less than Rajapakse, Sirisena is responsible for the crimes committed during the civil war and the brutal assault on the social conditions and democratic rights of the working class.
The Socialist Equality Party and its presidential candidate Pani Wijesiriwardane were alone in charting an independent course for the working class, not only in Sri Lanka but throughout Asia and internationally. While all the opposition parties promoted Sirisena as the “democratic alternative,” the SEP alone insisted that the working class can only combat the danger of war by fighting for its political independence from all factions of the ruling class on the basis of socialist internationalism.