(Statement of the Ceylon Mercantile Industrial and General Workers Union-CMU: From The Sunday Island, January 17, 2010) Abridged


Abolition of Executive Presidency has been a longtime demand in Sri Lanka. The current President Rajapakse has called for new elections without dealing with this matter and without addressing the national question of Tamils and Muslims of his country. [As of January 28, the news is that Mahinda Rajapakse has been re-elected but, as happened in Zimbabwe, there is serious dispute and army is on alert].


President Mahinda Rajapakse is seeking re-election for a second six-year term as Executive President without having abolished the Executive Presidency, as he had pledged. In the January 26 elections, he is being opposed by General Sarath Fonseka, the star of anti-LTTE rout. Fonseka is pledging abolition of the Executive Presidency; Rajapakse is evading the issue.


The Executive Committee of our Union, nevertheless, considers that the abolition of the Executive Presidency is of vital importance for social and economic interests, as well civil liberties.


President Rajapakse used his power to proclaim a State of Emergency, soon after he first took office in December 2005, and has extended it, with Parliamentary approval from month to month, up to now. The

Emergency Regulations served to suppress fundamental democratic rights and civil liberties.


Previous Presidents have exercised their powers to advance their own interests and those of their kith and kin, in the first place. They have also rewarded various other people who served their interests, in various ways, politically or otherwise. President Rajapakse has done so, quite blatantly. He awarded Ministerial portfolios and lucrative “projects” to several former UNP Ministers for their cross-over from the Opposition in Parliament.


Bribery and corruption have increased to such an extent under his regime, that it is an issue that will undoubtedly weigh with voters against President Rajapakse. His Government seems to have realized this: His Justice Minister, has just announced that a Bill would be tabled in Parliament, soon after the Presidential election, “to fight waste, corruption and irregular activities in the public sector”.


Our Union has not supported any candidate at any previous Presidential election. We have always opposed the powers of the Executive Presidency.


The only promise Rajapakse had given in his Mahinda Chinthanaya” to the millions of workers in the private sector, was that a low interest housing scheme, would be introduced “with the participation of the Employees Trust Fund and private banks”. Even that promise thus proved to be empty for the vast majority of workers in the private sector.


We had then pointed out that there was no mention in “Mahinda Chinthanaya” of the Workers’ Charter, which he had advocated and had been adopted by President Chandrika Kumaratunga’ Government, when she was Minister of Labour. We have to point out that the Workers’ Charter has remained a dead letter under President Rajapakse’s Government, and that he has nothing to say now about any legislative protection for several millions of workers, employed on a casual basis, directly or through labour contractors, on low daily rates of pay, with no paid leave or security of employment. Others are employed on “fixed term” contracts, renewable from time to time, but without any assurance of continued employment.


The Rajapakse Government has also failed to implement the two most important ILO Conventions, relating to the fundamental rights of Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining, that Sri Lanka has endorsed and the Government is bound to implement “in law and in practice”.


Our Executive Committee observes that President Rajapakse has made no commitment, up to now, to implement even the limited degree of provincial autonomy that President J.R. Jayawardene had agreed to grant to the Tamil-speaking Tamil and Muslim peoples of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, under the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. Having achieved the complete destruction of the LTTE by the Armed Forces, last May, and subjecting the people of those two provinces to military rule, the President sacked the Sri Lankan Representative to the UN in Geneva, when the latter published a statement in favour of the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, which the Jathika Hela Urumaya had completely opposed. When President Rajapakse repeats his catch-phrase of achieving a settlement of the “National Question”, “acceptable to all”, it is obvious, therefore, that he has no intention to “settle” that crucial question on any basis that would be acceptable to the vast majority of the Tamil and Muslim peoples in the North and East. His true attitude to them was revealed at the “Victory Parade” of the Armed Forces, last year, when he proudly declared that there were no “national minorities”, in this country, and that all its people had been reunited under the “National Flag”. 


The numbers of civilian deaths and casualties caused by the War in the North and East, have not been revealed by the Rajapakse Government, nor the numbers of Tamil youth, including child soldiers, who were killed or injured by the Armed Forces in armed combat. The extent of the destruction of public buildings and private homes by aerial bombing and by artillery bombardment have also been unreported. The kidnappings and killings of Tamil civilians, including journalists, suspected of having LTTE connections or sympathies, have never been acknowledged by the “Security Forces”.


The severe hardships suffered by the entire population because of the phenomenal rise in inflation and the cost of living caused by the War, have not yet been reduced. The huge “Security” expenditure involved, amounting to hundreds of billions of rupees, continues with the continuing “State of Emergency, and financial corruption in that regard, too, no doubt. Furthermore, the huge debts incurred by the Government will remain as a burden on the masses of the working people. The huge loan of 2.6 billion US dollars (approximately 286 billion rupees) that the Government found necessary to request from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the conditions for its grant, will have to be met. The IMF Chairman has explained that the loan was granted to prevent the collapse of our country’s economy.


Having regard to all the above-mentioned facts and circumstances, our Executive Committee considers that the re-election of President Rajapakse will only mean the continuance or even worsening of the living conditions of the working people, under the continuing political conditions of an already militarized society, in which democratic and human rights are no longer respected by the ruling regime. We have no reason to believe that General Fonseka will end this situation, and change it for the better, for the working people, with the political support of the UNP and the JVP. It is our considered view, therefore, that our own Union and other organizations of the working people, in urban as well as rural areas, will have to rely on their own strength and their capacity to combine their forces to deal with the situation that they will have to face after 26th January, whether President Mahinda Rajapakse is re-elected, or is displaced by General Sarath Fonseka.

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