Centre Must Not Arbitrarily Use Power – Jayampathy Wickramaratne
Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) member, Parliamentarian Jayampathy Wickramaratne said with two parties within the coalition government there is bound to be differences of opinions which is reasonable. He says the unity government should complete its term as per the pledge given to the people.In an interview with The Sunday Leader Wickramaratne said, on the 18th of December the LSSP commemorates the 81st anniversary of the party in a completely different setting. He says all over the world socialism has suffered setbacks and the people live in an era of capitalist development. However he says the LSSP still believes that the ultimate solution to all these problems is an egalitarian society. Wickramaratne also noted that the LSSP supports proportional representation overall but it also wants to stand for constituencies (electorates). He says the party supported the idea of constituencies but built into the proportional representation system.
Following are excerpts of the interview;
by Roshani Nathaniel
Q. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) was founded on December 18th 1935 with the broad aims of Independence and Socialism. How do you see this journey?
A. The LSSP was formed in 1935 as the first political party in Sri lanka and also the pioneering left party in the country. It was established by giants like N. M. Perera and Colvin R. de Silva and Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe. It was in the forefront of the anti-imperialistic struggle and it also contributed to the upliftment of the poor people in Sri Lanka. Dr. N.M. Perera and Philip Gunawardena were very active members of the State Council from 1936 onwards.
We contributed alot in achieving independence through our struggles. The issues raised at the time included the abolition of child labour, free school books, abolition of irrigation rates, a scheme of unemployment insurance, minimum wage, eight-hour day, rent restriction, slum clearance, the use of Sinhalese and Tamil for proceedings in lower courts and for entries in police stations and the gradual extension of this to all government departments.
It basically details the LSSP is a socialist party basically based among the workers and peasants. However, we also found that in the first 50 years or so there were a large number of intellectuals ranging from university dons, doctors, lawyers and other professionals who joined the party. We also contributed to strengthening the democracy in Sri Lanka.
However, our party got split during the war just like all socialist parties in the world got split up. We followed the Trotskyite ideology because we did not believe in the authoritarian rule of a single communist party.
If you read the parliamentary debates of that period, you will see that the LSSP leaders took up issues of human rights and democracy too. At that time the phrase human rights was not even in vogue. Issues such as freedom of expression, the right to have your own views, not to be arrested except according to the law, not to be tortured or illegally detained were all the issues that were taken up by the LSSP especially. We also had a very strong women’s organisation headed by people like Florence Senanayake who was the first female Member of Parliament in 1947.
We also contributed alot to the working class movements and the trade unions at that time were the strongest in the country. Hence we have contributed to the amelioration of the standards of living of ordinary people.
On the 18th we commemorate the 81st anniversary in a completely different setting. Unfortunately all over the world socialism has suffered setbacks and we live in an era of capitalist development. But we still believe that the ultimate solution to all these problems is an egalitarian society and the name of our party ‘Sama Samaja’ means equality. We did not call ourselves a communist party but rather an equality party for very good reasons. Today although the goal of socialism is not close at hand the issue of social justice is relevant, especially under the new liberal wave that has gone across the world. More groups worldwide are getting marginalised and new liberalism itself is facing difficulties.
However, our old slogans may not be valid for today and we may have to rephrase them. It is social justice and inequality that we have to fight for in the immediate future.
Q. Why did the LSSP split?
A. In the latter period of the war, after the escape of the leaders from jail in 1942, a faction struggle developed within the party. The differences centred mainly around organisational issues. One faction called itself the Bolshevik-Leninist faction and declared that the other faction was attempting to dilute the party and convert it into a loose organisation. The other faction, calling itself the Workers Opposition, declared that the party machine had been captured by a group of intellectuals who were obstructing the expansion of the party among the working class.
In 2014-2015 we claimed ourselves to be the majority group and called ourselves the LSSP majority group. We actually believed that people who called themselves Sama Samaja were with us and not with the mother party. We in the majority group have not been expelled and we are only suspended. Hence, we still retain our primary membership in the LSSP. We hope for the day when all LSSP members could come together. When the last Presidential elections were called the leaders of the LSSP wanted to decide to support Mahinda Rajapaksa. Earlier in 2010 violating two decisions of the political bureau the leaders of the party voted for the 18th amendment. But we were not strong as we were in the 1940’s. I think that was a big black mark on the leadership of the LSSP by voting for the 18th amendment. Some party members decided to support Rajapaksa and we supported Sirisena. We somehow managed to oust the authoritative Rajapaksa regime.
As for myself being a Sama Samaja party member here I am with the coalition forces but yet I keep my identity. For example I go to the parliamentary group meeting but I do not attend and have not been invited to the group meetings for the UNP. They do understand our different position.
Right now our task is to uphold democratisation of the state and social justice. Democratisation of the state can only be done through a new constitution. A state that we have power sharing in the centre as well as the periphery, abolition of the executive presidency, strengthen devolution within our indivisible country. We are for power devolution within a unitary country.
We think it’s a very foolish move on the part of the Tamils to try to separate from the country. The majority of the Tamil people paid the price for it.
Q. The LSSP had in the past been the pioneers in standing up for the rights of children. Can you elaborate?
A. Today it is shameful when we read of the things that happen to children. We also mooted for the free meals to be provided to school children. Now when we speak of children’s rights we are pushing for the rights of children to be included in the new constitution. The bill of rights as enforceable fundamental rights. Not just that, weaker sections of society like women are still being marginalised. Hence we are strongly pushing for social equal rights. The right to access to food and water, health, education housing and social assistance and also women’s rights, environmental rights, elders rights etc.
We are also very happy to note that the fundamental rights chapter proposed by the sub-committee on fundamental rights in the constitutional assembly has proposed all that and it is a very strong bill of rights. I am happy to have been a member of that sub-committee and if that bill of rights becomes a fundamental rights chapter of our country it will probably be one of the strongest fundamental rights chapters in the whole of Asia. It will also allow us to agitate for social economic rights as forcible rights, therefore ensuring some level of social justice. We can’t achieve socialism through the enforcement of fundamental rights.
Q. With the Tamil parties insisting on a federal solution, what are the safeguards that need to be taken to ensure that the powers vested in the Provincial Councils through the devolution of power, are not abused?
A. It’s a two way thing . Powers can be abused by the Provincial Councils and also powers to deal with such violations can be abused by the centre. Hence we need to have safeguards for both. For example any powers that are devolved must not be used for separatist movement. If a provincial Council seems to be taking steps in that direction, the Central Government surely must have the power to intervene and even dissolve the provincial council concerned.
However, we must also ensure that the centre does not arbitrarily use that power. Hence what we propose is that in the event there is a provincial council dissolution there should be some mechanism like first an arbitration process with a right to go to court if someone is not happy either with the centre or the Provincial council. Hence while we are for devolution we are in favour of any amount of safeguards against the abuse of power by the provinces and also against the abuse of power by the centre.
Q. With regard to the new electoral system, do you think we need is an electoral system that ensures justifiable representation?
A. We are for proportional representation overall but we also want to stand for constituencies (electorates). We support the idea of constituencies but built into the proportional representation system. Its called mixed member proportional system. Overall result is proportional but there are constituency MP’s also. A voter would have to vote once for the constituency and once for the party. The overall result is largely proportional. However to ensure that we need a very low cut off point or no cut off point at all.
Then a limited number of party member seats to ensure the representation of interest groups that do not get representation otherwise. For example in Batticaloa its very difficult as the Muslims in Batticaloa are dispersed but they have sufficient numbers to get an MP elected but because they are not geographically together this was sorted out through a multimember constituency before 1977. Not very much but a limited number of multimember constituencies we would support together with a lower cut off point and national level PR.
Q. As a whole can the constitution be correctly redrafted when the simple 19th Amendment had so many mistakes and the Local Government Act uses the wrong word for polling division, making the holding of local government elections impossible?
A. The constitution cannot address all issues but it can only provide the legal framework for a better Sri Lanka. But that is important as without that you wont get anywhere. For example if you don’t have the independence of the judiciary you may have the best laws in the country but if the judiciary is not independent you wont get justice.
Q. You were appointed as the Parliamentary Secretary. However, how do you manage to function within one party and still keep your identity?
A. I was appointed to that post because of my involvement in the constitutional reform process. Hence I find no difficulty at all in discharging that role. I am a member of the steering committee member of the constitutional assembly I have no problem at all but the political positions I take are those of the LSSP. I act according to decisions collectively taken by my party. That is primary.
Q. Within the unity government there have been instances where if the UNP takes a decision the SLFP tries to oppose it and if the SLFP takes a decision the UNP tries to derail it. Do you think both parties are travelling on two tracks?
A. No I don’t believe so. Both parties had agreed to the imposition of fines as anyone walking on the roads or driving a vehicle would agree that our road discipline is very low. So we need to address this issue. As for the protests if any party feels they are being affected they are then free to talk. There is still much to be done and the motor traffic act should be amended.