Oppose the draconian state of emergency! No to presidential dictatorship! Abolish the executive presidency!

The Socialist Equality Party (PES) condemns the declaration of a state of emergency by President Gotabhaya Rajapakse last Friday and demands its immediate lifting.

The declaration of a state of emergency is being prepared to crush the working class and the struggle waged for a month by the workers who demand the resignation of the president and an end to the social misery created by galloping inflation and chronic shortages of essential products.

Thousands of students and workers gather on Parliament Road in Colombo during the general strike on May 6, 2022

In the one-day general strikes of April 28 and May 6, the working class demonstrated its immense social power in the struggle for these demands. Last Friday, the self-employed, the rural poor, fishermen and small entrepreneurs also joined in the general strike and the hartal (closure of all shops and small businesses), paralyzing the entire economy of the island.

The strike and the hartal terrified the ruling class and the entire political establishment – ​​both government and opposition – including the unions who called for the strike.

Rajapakse’s response to last Friday’s strike was to immediately impose a state of emergency to bolster his already extensive authoritarian executive powers. Under the state of emergency law, he can deploy the army and police to arrest people without warrants, ban strikes, demonstrations and meetings, impose curfews and media censorship, and outlawing political parties.

The president has already taken the first step in the deployment of the army by canceling all leave for members of the security forces. The army, strengthened during the 26 years of communal anti-Tamil warfare, is the largest per capita in South Asia and is highly politicized. Over the past two years, Rajapakse has integrated senior army officers into key civil administration positions.

Rajapakse’s claim that he invoked emergency powers to maintain “essential community life supplies and services” is an outright lie. His regime and the capitalist class have already completely disrupted “supplies and services essential to the life of the community”, creating intolerable conditions for workers and the poor.

While the Rajapakse regime mobilizes the military, the unions demobilize the working class. Visibly shaken by what they called the “unexpected success” of last Friday’s strike and hartal and fearing a confrontation with the government, the unions called off the indefinite general strike that was due to begin next Wednesday and replaced it with symbolic demonstrations: daily gatherings of workers at lunchtime.

If the president and government do not resign, they say they will stage a march to the national parliament on May 17 and demand a solution. Their solution, as they have already explained, is for the capitalist opposition parties – mainly the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) – to form an interim government and then snap elections be held.

It is a solution for the ruling class and not for the working class. All parliamentary parties – government and opposition – have pledged to impose the draconian dictates of the International Monetary Fund in exchange for an emergency bailout. As Finance Minister Ali Sabry said, “Things will get worse before they get better… The next few years will be painful”.

The Socialist Equality Party (PES) condemns the trade unions’ treacherous decision to call off this week’s general strike. This only buys President Rajapakse time to mobilize the army while plotting behind closed doors with opposition parties. He offered the premiership to SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, who turned it down, but he said his party would support an interim regime from the outside.

If the situation is left in the hands of the unions, the working class will be betrayed. These are the same unions that have betrayed all the struggles of workers – including health care workers and teachers – over the past two years. The leaders of the Federation of Health Professionals, Ravi Kumudesh and Saman Ratnapriya openly state that they had called their members to strikes and demonstrations not to fight for workers’ rights, but to “manage their anger”.

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Oppose the draconian state of emergency! No to presidential dictatorship! Abolish the executive presidency!

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