PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION 2004
NEW LEFT FRONT - Symbol TABLE
Speech broadcast over Channel Eye of Rupavahini
Saturday 6th March 2004 at 7-30 p.m.
Citizens, Friends and Comrades,
I appear as a candidate of the New Left Front, for the Colombo district. Our symbol is the TABLE. We have adopted a program, which will be presented to you shortly. I believe that it would be in place for me to explain who we are, what is our history and why I am here at this time?
The constituent units of the NLF are the Nava Sama Samaja Party led by Dr.Wickramabahu Karunaratne, the Democratic Left Front led by Vasudeva Nanayakkara, the Sama Samaja Alternative Group led by Chandra Kumarage and several individual left sympathizers and democrats.
Having completed forty-one years as a lecturer in Modern History and International Politics in several Universities here and in Japan, I have come forward in the evening of my life to support this broad alliance. This is a Front that was not created in haste to fight this election. It is the result of a re-grouping of the left forces in this country that began with frequent meetings beginning November 2002.
A seven-point program was agreed upon and was presented to and adopted by over three hundred participants at a meeting in March 2003. The emerging broad alliance was named the Left Unity Gathering. This general election was thrust upon us much against our will. We are fielding candidates countrywide and have decided to use this election as a platform to present our program to the people of this country.
We solicit your support to rebuild a strong left movement that will take up every distress and discontent, every act of oppression and suppression - as we take a stand for an equitable and egalitarian society.
Our roots go back to the origins of Sama Samajism in this country in the 1930s, which in turn had its roots in the Suriya Mal Movement in the South and the Jaffna Youth Congress in the North.
Dr.Lersky in his study of the Origins of Trotskyism in Ceylon refers to the role played by Dr.N.M.Perera and Philip Gunewardene in the Second State Council as that of “Popular Tribunes of the People.” They used the floor of the Legislature effectively as they fought to promote the Social Welfare measures that led to vital reforms pertaining in particular to education and health care. These measures adopted in the thirties and forties laid the foundations for the high Physical Quality of Life Index that placed us second only to that of Japan in Asia as early as in the 1960s, with high literacy rates, low infant mortality rates and the consequent rise in average life expectancy.
Today those measures are being slowly but surely subverted and jettisoned. A recent report indicated that one in three children in the war-affected north are undernourished. Country wide the poor become poorer as gaps in income increase in leaps and bounds.
An event in the political history of this country that I have never forgotten goes back to 1947 when the first parliamentary election was held. I was a student at Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai. As the results came in, our history teacher, one of the many such teachers from Kerala that helped build our educational system, known for his high-pitched voice, walking down the corridors of the magnificent quadrangle, while classes were on, shouted at the top of his voice – “Dahanayake has Won, Dahanayake has won.”
Why was that victory in the south echoed with such enthusiasm in the north? It was a historic victory when the barefooted teacher from Galle – then LSSP – had defeated the richest man in the country, a candidate fielded by the UNP. It was the contest that absorbed the attention of the country from South to North. Whatever his somersaults in later years, Dahanayake’s voice became the voice of dissent, championing the cause of the under-privileged, the marginalized and discriminated - in that first parliament.
We had other famous voices of dissent such as that of C.Suntheralingam, known as “Sun” the “Voice from the Vanni,” Edmund Samarakkody, and the distinguished Nadesan from the floor of the Senate.
We are at a juncture in our history when we need to place on the floor of parliament competent and committed citizens, who have the knowledge and are prepared to put in the hard work necessary to raise the issues that plague the country from the perspective of the working people of this country.
Representatives who would study every issue that comes up for debate and discussion and champion the larger and long-term interests of the country in the pursuit of peace, democracy, social justice and independence.
It is with that purpose that we place before you our program, which first and foremost calls for a negotiated and peaceful end to the conflict - recognizing the Tamil homeland principle. The just rights of the Muslims and the Up-Country Tamils must be given equal importance. The proposals for an Interim Self-Governing Authority submitted by the LTTE could be considered as a basis for negotiations and discussions leading to a lasting peace.
We assert that in the search for a permanent and democratic solution attention be given to the legitimate rights of the Muslims, the Up-Country Tamils, the Burghers, the Malayalis, the Malays and that of the Christians and all religious and ethnic minorities.
The NLF calls upon the people to defeat authoritarian tendencies that have characterized the executive presidency from its very inception, and to defend and promote democratic, human and civil rights - that steps be taken to abolish the executive presidency, and do away with all repressive legislation including emergency regulations that have restricted democratic and human rights.
In order to achieve this purpose the NLF advocates a democratically constituted Constituent Assembly with broad participation including that of the LTTE – and calls for an end to all forms of discrimination based on race, belief, gender, sexuality and calls for a clear commitment to the rights and protection of children.
In recent years, economic policies have been directed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.
These policies have brought economic disaster, specifically a rise in the cost of living, and have negated local and indigenous initiatives, especially that of the rural poor and fishing communities, and have enhanced discriminatory practices against minority communities. These economic policies and the burden of the war have created untold misery and hardship for the masses of this country.
The NLF will resist the pressures of global capitalism, and in the pursuit of economic progress and stability will join hands with the World Social Movement and the International Socialist Movement. The NLF has consistently intervened to gain income and wage rises in the past and will continue to do so in future struggle.
And finally I wish to conclude with an appeal to the average citizen, the intelligentsia and the men and women in the professions, in particular teachers and university academics – the time has come for you to come out of your sitting rooms and offices where worried and restless you complain about the depths to which this country has sunk.
Political culture has hit rock bottom. Corruption and thuggery in high places have reached unprecedented heights to the eternal shame of this country. Some foreign commentators have recently likened Sri Lanka to that of a failed state.
We call upon the decent people of this land to come out and vote for our Front in a massive expression of dissent that will set in motion a re-growth of the democratic forces in this country.
The two major parties that have ruled this country for the last 56 years have failed. They need to be given a strong and powerful message that the people of this country are bitter, disappointed and fed up and are capable, sooner rather than later, of sending them out of office.
Under the multiple-seat system that prevailed before this infamous 1978 constitution was imposed on the country it was possible for a voter in the Colombo Central and Colombo South electorates to cast one vote for the UNP or SLFP and another for the Left. That is how Pieter Keuneman and Bernard Soyza retained their seats in successive elections.
The present system of proportional representation and preferential voting restricts one’s choice and works in favour of the elitist and the powerful, the rich and well-oiled party machine, as against the smaller and poorly funded parties that stand-up for the rights of the people.
We therefore call upon you to circumvent this system by giving us some if not all the votes from your family or circle of friends and colleagues – thereby placing in parliament candidates from our Front who have long been involved in the relentless struggle for peace with justice, in defending human rights, and who stand for clean, transparent and good governance. Vote for the Table and send the members of the NLF to parliament.