Apart from the two candidates one from the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and the other from the common opposition contesting at the presidential election next month, Left Front candidate Duminda Nagamuwa could be considered as the third in line to steal the attention in the race. Having started mainstream politics in the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Mr. Nagamuwa is now a politburo member of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), a party formed not so long ago by a group of JVPers who defected from the party. The Left Front is an alliance of three socialist parties including the FSP, Sri Lanka Socialist Party and the Nawa Sama Samaja Party. In an interview with Dailymirro Mr. Nagamuwa explained their decision to contest the election, about the socialist politics, their campaign and the current state of affairs in Sri Lanka’s political arena.
Q Do you think you have taken a wise decision to contest at the presidential election and do you think you have a chance of winning it with candidates like Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena in the fray?
We think our decision is correct because during the past few decades socialism had been engulfed in capitalism. The belief established in the minds of people is that there is no other option than the two main political parties to look forward to. The society has been made to believe that elections can solve the issues of the people.
We have taken a decision to change that and we think it is a correct political decision. We have made a good entrance. We think what is more important is contesting and not the final result. We are not focused on who will win the election but our intervention is what matters. Our entry and competing is a good enough victory.
Q You said people have been made to believe that elections are the solution for their plight. If elections aren’t the answer, how can the people’s problems be solved and what other option do they have?
As we know, in this electoral and political system, people believe that they have to appoint someone to consider their concerns and solve them. Today a private sector employee receives a salary of Rs.8,000 while a state employee receives about Rs.15,000. The youth have been told that their haven is in Korea or Europe. They have been told to believe that their issues can only be solved by leaving the country. People lack sufficient income or savings to build a home or to pay for their medicines though we have a free healthcare sector. These issues will not be solved through elections. That is why we have decided to enter into the fray.
We don’t think the peoples’ plights could be solved by appointing legislators.We are stuck in this political system. There are alternatives after than elections and that message should be sent to the public. We think people should team up and organise themselves. At the moment, people realise what is happening in politics and have started thinking differently. We request the people including the students to organise themselves. Without organising themselves or without a proper discussion we can’t change this system. There are many ways to organise and it has been proved that people power is a force to be reckoned with.
When the government attempted to introduce a pension scheme to the private sector, people teamed up and opposed it. Ultimately the government withdrew the pension scheme. In a similar protest by undergraduates, the government had to shift the ‘Deyata Kirula’ exhibition from the premises of the Ruhuna University. These incidents show that real power lies with the people and not with the executive presidency.
Though the Venerable Mahanayake Theras opposed the holding of night car races in Kandy, the race was held as planned. So we should realise where the power is.This is what we want people to think about. People should get together to change the current political system.That is what we are suggesting as an option for the people.
Q What you are saying is that people should organise themselves to solve the issues they face and that the elections do not provide the answers. In this context how can you justify your contesting at the elections?
None of the elections, whether Presidential, General, Pradeshiya Sabha or Provincial Council can solve the problems faced by the public. People are made to believe that elections indicate the existence of a vibrant democracy in the country and reflect the opinion of the people. But this is not the case, elections are being held today to determine an artificial opinion and not the genuine opinion of the people.
Who likes to pay for the free education and free health services? No one. But the issue is that people keep voting and appointing those who changed these issues into principles. People are being brainwashed daily and hourly through the media and in other ways.
The government says it has held so many elections that the opposition has lost interest in them. It says elections are the indicators of democracy. But what is the point of holding elections without first providing a level playing field? How can an election be free and fair when the ruling regime governs the media and obstructs other parties from expressing their views?
That is why we say elections are not the answer to the concerns of the people. We are only contesting the election to deliver that message to the people.
Q How practical is it when it comes to making Sri Lankans believe in your views? Though you represent the farmers and labourers, haven’t they lost faith in you?
We represent the common citizens, those who depend on a monthly salary and the farmers, fishermen, students and those who are being suppressed. But they are the people entangled in the main political streams and vote for either of the two of these camps. People think their actions and thoughts are genuine and their own but what happens is that they express what has already been fed into them. It is like the movies which have been dubbed by others. The lips are moving but the thoughts that are expressed has been created through the media by the political parties. Frankly, peoples’ thoughts are not theirs. They think what rulers, United National Party (UNP) or the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) want them to believe.
People chant slogans given by the parties.These cannot be changed overnight. We are here to represent the people and to discuss their issues. They will eventually realise that we are highlighting true situation and real life issues. People need to team up and raise their voice against the current devious political trend.
Q The political views based on the left have not been successfully embraced by most of the countries. Other than a few, most of the countries are governed by either liberals or capitalists. What have you to say on this?
The Global Socialist Camp collapsed, so was the discussion on the socialism. The world began to believe that there was no future for socialism in the 90s. Some like Francis Fukuyama said capitalism is the last solution in the world. But what is happening around the world now? Since 2008 and 2010 the world is in the middle of economic chaos again. The United States and the Europe have been severely affected. Unemployment in some countries like Italy is 25 per cent, inflation is so high and economic growth is minus in countries like Greece.
The US and Europe are the models of capitalism but they are the most affected from economic crisis. Capitalism has been challenged today. However, socialism won’t overcome or replace capitalism within one or two years. Turning points in the global political arena have taken decades to take shape. It took two and a half decades for a full discussion on socialism. European Marxists are rising again, they have started discussions.
Even our political party was formed to fill the socialist void in the country not to fulfill any individual’s desires. The world is searching for political alternatives today.
Our country was ruled for 66 years by capitalism and what have we gained today? Twenty per cent of the children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition, 25 per cent of the people are diabetics, and 28 per cent are at risk of heart disease while one out of every four elders risk mental illnesses while 27 per cent of the elders are working even after they turn 65.
These are the fruits of so called capitalism, which is believed to be practical. This is why people need to look at another political alternative or option. We are asking the people to look for a different path and to listen to a different voice now. That is what we expect to introduce through this election.
Q What were your reasons to leave the JVP and what have you got to say about their decision to refrain from fielding any candidate at the election?
There were several reasons to leave the JVP. The first reason was its decision to form political alliances. The Communist Party and the Sama Samajay Party betrayed the left camp by joining hands with the government. The JVP did the same in 2004 and even after realising that the then decision was an error, then in 2010, the JVP again teamed up with political parties having different views.
The other fact is racism based politics. In Sri Lanka, racism is being used to secure votes of different ethnic groups and JVP has also been pushed towards this unfortunate system.
They also believed that the Parliament was the answer to the mechanism to solve issues instead of people power.
What we are used to doing in the present political culture is to select the lesser evil. JVP introduced this concept. The problem is that the lesser evil will always be more evil when comes to power. Back then people were asked to vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa saying he was the lesser evil compared with Ranil Wickremesinghe. Today Mahinda Rajapaksa has turned out to be more evil and therefore they ask people to choose Maithripala Sirisena saying he is the lesser evil. He too will become more evil when he comes to power. This was why we left the JVP and formed another party. Even after its mistakes, the JVP is not in a position to give up its old habits. They are always trying to bring two different political camps together.
Some JVPers indirectly back Maithripala while others voice against it. People shouldn’t choose the lesser evil. They have been doing it for a long period of time so is it ethical to ask people to do that again? It could be justifed if all the problems will be solved after the election. But we all know it won’t happen.
We need to concentrate on what would happen after the election and focus on the long journey ahead of us.
Q Though you said you are not focusing on the final results of the election, you have to have a manifesto to make people believe in your mission. So what do you have to offer to the people?
The two main political parties are making enough promises to induce people to vote for them. They offer bikes or salary increments of Rs.10,000. On top of that they offer big inducements for those crossing over that people are getting so confused today. They have had enough of these promises.
Our manifesto addresses the real issues of the public and how they can be solved within a socialist framework. We have been told today that the poor will receive benefits when the revenue of the country increases. But what has happened is that the income of the people at lower levels have decreased and they are suffering much more than ever before. Our economic policy is based on diminishing the gap between the haves and have-nots.
The manifesto has proper plans to make agriculture productive. These plans will be drafted through the involvement of people. We will draft proper centralised plans to stabalise the economy and these plans will not be drafted under the influence of any party politics.
Companies today spend millions of rupees to publish advertisements to keep unnecessary products in the market. Some sectors such as Insurance industry is parasitic and employees in this sector are also not happy about the sector. We have to change these trends,
We will consult the opinion of the people before amending the constitution or bringing a new one. Socialism is about drafting a constitution with the contribution of the common citizens. We are completely against forcing a constitution on the country drafted by including the opinion of two or three people.
Our manifesto also focused on reconciliation. Muslims and Tamils live under heavy pressure today. They have no cultural or language freedom. Jaffna has been militarized. These must be changed.
Q The Left Front is a collision of a three socialist parties. Will you be contesting at future election as the Front-line Socialist Party or as another coalition?
We have teamed up this time mainly focusing on the presidential election. However, we have been working together in socialist politics for a while now. We have not taken any decision on how to contest future elections yet. However, we have no need to team up with parties with different political viewpoints.
Q The FSP was formed recently and it has not contested any of the previous Provincial Council or Pradeshiya Sabha elections. Why you have decided to contest now?
We had to complete the work of organising our new party and to bring different viewpoints to one place. That is why we took our time and didn’t contest previously. We think the presidential election is a good opportunity to receive the attention of the people and to forward our discussions and the programme.
Compared with Pradeshiya Sabha and Provincial Council elections, the presidential election receives countrywide attention. Therefore, we think this is the ideal moment to make the entrance.
And when it comes to political maturity, I don’t think we have an issue as we have been doing politics in the JVP for a long time. We have carried out a lot of work in the political arena. We don’t think we will have any issue with experience. It is up to people to decide whether we are eligible.
Q It is learnt that the party has requested the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Immigration and Emigration Department to allow Kumar Gunaratnam to return from Australia. What response have you received from them?
The Immigration Department asked for some information which was submitted to them but we have heard nothing though a month has passed since then. Usually the Department responds in two days to these requests. Therefore we applied for Sri Lankan visa for him through our mission in Australia which was also proved unsuccessful. Usually they respond within a day but it has been three days without a reply. The officials say the matter should be discussed in the Defence Ministry. This clearly shows that the government is preventing Kumar from returning to the country.
Q There were speculations that the government was facilitating the FLSP electioneering and that you are attempting to steal the votes of some of the candidates. What is your opinion on this?
When there is a new political party or an entry, it is typical for rival political parties to create suspicions about the new party. When we were forming the FLSP, the government alleged that we were backed by the Tamil Diaspora. Out in the open we criticized both main political streams and asked people not to vote for them. How can we team up with one of them in this situation? There are allegations but we are not worried.
We have our brothers and sisters and they know how hard we have worked to come this far.
Q What would be the future of the FLSP and what kind of an impact will the election results have on the future of the party?
The election results will make an impact on the future of the country and the future of the country will make an effect on the future of socialist parties. Our opinion is that regardless of who wins the elections, democracy will be the loser. Many other issues will arise and will be aggravated. We are already in the midst of economic turmoil. The government is manipulating the conflict between the US and China for its gain.
The economic chaos will ultimately create political unrest in the country and then the legislators will have nothing to do other than suppressing the rights of the people.We will stay strong and prepare the people to face these issues. We know the journey will be rough but we request the people especially students those who have lost the faith in socialism to gather round us. We believe the future of Leftist Parties depend on its relationship with people, warning them and leading them away from the dangers they could fall into.
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