Sarath Fonseka and the Role of the Opposition: Will Sanity Prevail?
Sri Lanka is a small miracle, and miraculous things happen here. Not only did it defeat terrorism. It is just about to witness another battle. Something grotesque, gruesome. We are playing into the hands of the separatists. We are creating more problems for ourselves, at a time when we should have been resolving them. Much of this could still be avoided. Much of this would have been avoided â€“ if only this country had a more responsible and concerned Opposition.
Politics, General Fonseka and the Opposition
Politics was not General Sarath Fonseka’s theatre. He belonged to a profession that was more loved, and respected, by a majority of the people in this country. But towards the end of the war, he began sounding like a politician, while he was still the Army Commander; saying things that politicians said; talking about things politicians talked about. About the generosity of the Sinhalese majority. About the war and the ‘Indian/Tamil Nadu factor’.
People wondered then whether General Fonseka harboured political ambitions. Today, there’s nothing much to think about. The Opposition is, quite disturbingly, proud to claim that the Common Candidate at the next Presidential Election is going to be General Fonseka. Much has been written, and much will be written, about Sarath Fonseka the CC. However at this moment, it is necessary to ask the question: is Sarath Fonseka the best you’ve got? If so, the Opposition is not only sad, but pathetic, too.
If the Opposition did not know very clearly the ambitions and aspirations of General Fonseka, it only needs to read the letter written by him, as Chief of Defence Staff, dated 12 November 2009, to his Commander-in-Chief, President Mahinda Rajapaksa; wherein the factors which affected his retirement are set out clearly (in Annex A to the letter). Some preliminary issues need to be raised. Some questions need to be asked.
Power and ‘Executive Presidency’ â€“ a duped Opposition?
Kusal Perera, in his article (The Unwritten Revelations of Sarath Fonseka’s Letter) very correctly refers to the notion of ‘power’, and what one can expect from General Fonseka. It should be quite clear that it is power that General Fonseka had, what he doesn’t have, and what he needs. He had enough of it when he needed it to defeat the LTTE; unbridled, unrestrained, power. Not only to finish the war, but to issue statements which, unfortunately, embarrassed the government. Yes, because given the tone and tenor of General Fonseka’s letter, and his grievances which reference nothing more than ‘authority’ ‘command responsibility’ and power, it is quite clear that the Government had little control over what he said or did. Was President Rajapaksa indeed helpless? How much power did General Fonseka wield during the time of the war? Could the President have done anything as long as General Fonseka was in control of the Army? And how much power does he want, tomorrow?
If then, could the Opposition still believe that General Fonseka is in this to abolish the Executive Presidency, hand over power to Ranil Wickremasinghe, and leave for the US of A? This is pure nonsense, and the Opposition should know better. As Malinda Seneviratne had argued recently: ‘pick a ruthless fighter and you can say goodbye to any kind of compassion’ (Elections: deciding with what we prefer to be stung, The Daily Mirror). And is it compassion that persons such as Ranil Wickremasinghe (Thoppigala is simply a jungle), Mangala Samaraweera (SF not fit to lead the Salvation Army), Ravi Karunanayaka (Medawachchi instead of Kilinochchi, Paamankada instead of Alimankada), and Lakshman Kiriella (any donkey can wage war) et al expect from ‘President Sarath Fonseka’? Please!
War crimes and other accusations â€“ the Opposition’s stance?
There are other issues involved, too. I refer, in particular, to an interview that the Irida Lankadeepa is carrying today. This is with Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka. He states that the most damaging accusations thrown at General Fonseka were by politicians in the Opposition. Accusations concerning attacks on media personnel, human rights violations, killings in Muttur, white-van abductions. The Minister does not claim that General Fonseka committed them.
But one needs to be mindful of the Opposition’s take on these accusations, today. So what is the Opposition’s take on Lasantha Wickrematunga’s killing, for instance? Was it the Rajapaksas or was it done by elements more closer to Sarath Fonseka? What of white-van abductions? Was it a creation of the Rajapaksas, or that of Fonseka? Muttur – Rajapaksa’s orders or Fonseka’s orders? How about the Channel 4 clip? If you think it’s authentic (I don’t, by the way), was the execution carried out due to Rajapaksa’s orders or Fonseka’s orders? Or is the Opposition now saying it was carried out by an innocent Fonseka under the orders of Rajapaksa? What would human rights activists such as Nimalka Fernando say about all this? Is there freedom to cry out on these issues on the Platform for Freedom?
And, more importantly, is it because of Sarath Fonseka that the Opposition is silent today on the issue of ‘war crimes’? A responsible Opposition would answer.
Militarization of the North â€“ desire of the Opposition?
Another serious accusation leveled against President Rajapaksa was that of ‘militarization’. Too many soldiers – too much security in the North, they said. Unprecedented recruitment â€“ proof of militarization or an intention to do so, it was claimed. The Army is too powerful – it is nothing but a military State, it was said. Rajapaksa is a brute-Gotabaya is worse, they shouted.
Firstly, what is General Fonseka’s intention, one might very well ask. Well, it’s quite clear. General Fonseka considers Defence Sec. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s statement – to the effect that granting operation control of all three services to the Chief of Defence Staff (i.e. Gen. Fonseka) would be dangerous – unethical. General Fonseka claims that President Rajapaksa’s statement that ‘no further recruitment would be necessary’ was surprising, disgusting, insulting. So what is needed was not only control of the armed forces, but greater recruitment. Is that not what would lead to a possible militarization of the North? Is that not what would lead to the presence of armed personnel in numbers exceeding more than what is required for purposes of defence and maintenance of national security?
And has not General Fonseka, by raising these concerns, helped President Rajapaksa alleviate all fears that the Tamil people, in particular, harboured over the past few months, even years? To the Tamil voter, then, who looks more moderate? To the Tamil voter, who looks less threatening? Is it not Mahinda Rajapaksa? Under these circumstances, one could even claim that the Tamil voter in the North would only have choices: either boycott the election, or vote in favour of Mahinda Rajapaksa. And what has the Opposition gained by trying to endorse General Sarath Fonseka?
Coup â€“ was the Opposition waiting to benefit from one?
General Fonseka claims that there was a ‘fear psychosis of a coup’, and that various agencies had misled President Rajapaksa into believing that there was going to be a coup. He states that placing the Indian Troops on high alert over suspicion of a possible coup tarnished the image and reputation of the Sri Lankan Army. But before going into the question of tarnishing the image of the country’s Army, the following needs to be asked: if General Fonseka is to believe that he should be the next President, is it correct to claim that President Rajapaksa was ‘misled’ on the issue of the coup? Should not President Rajapaksa have done what he did to General Fonseka, for the greater security and stability of the country? And is the Opposition unable to consider this issue in some perspective? Is it not clear then that the Opposition was waiting things to happen to benefit from it?
Conclusion â€“ is there really an Opposition?
There are many other issues that need to be discussed. For that, there is time. President Rajapaksa, it is said, might announce the date of the next election soon. General Fonseka has not expressly stated that he IS the common candidate. But the Opposition claims that he WILL be the common candidate, in case President Rajapaksa decides to go for an early Presidential Election.
So, the Opposition needs to give serious thought to some of the issues directly relating to General Fonseka. It needs to revisit the accusations that were leveled against him, and consider more seriously, whether it is ethical and morally justifiable to put forward General Fonseka as their common candidate. Could a responsible Opposition seriously endorse General Fonseka’s candidature? It is also perhaps the duty of responsible actors in civil society to come out more clearly on the question of whether or not the Opposition should endorse General Fonseka.
Perhaps the following too needs to be answered: is the Opposition asking us to re-elect President Rajapaksa, and thereby dump the Opposition in the political dustbin for good? I do not know what the more responsible politicians such as Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa think about it, but as to what Ranil Wickremasinghe thinks about this, there can be no doubt.
So let us be mindful of what is happening here, for the moment. Just when one thought that Mahinda Rajapaksa would not find it overly easy to win a Presidential Election, just when one thought President Rajapaksa was ‘messing it up’, and just when one thought that all hope is lost under a regime led by President Rajapaksa – the Opposition goes and campaigns for General Sarath Fonseka!Â