Colombo, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

‘Sarath Fonseka’: the Grand Plaything of Sri Lanka’s Politicians

“This is the way the world ends,
Not with a bang, but a whimper.(TS Eliot)

Sarath Fonseka’s emergence as a politician was of immense political benefit to a number of politicians and political parties in Sri Lanka; not necessarily for good reasons though. ‘Sarath Fonseka’ was, for those who stood to benefit from his (imagined) success in politics, a mere political plaything. This is something that many, including Sarath Fonseka, ought to have realized a long time ago.

The above point is raised not with the slightest intention of justifying the horrendous ‘fate’ that has befallen Sarath Fonseka today. While this writer was no supporter of Sarath Fonseka’s Presidential ambitions, Fonseka’s swift and sudden arrest, detention and imprisonment showed the callousness with which the present regime could act if it truly wanted to end a political career of a political opponent, a perceived political threat. In that respect, the imprisonment of Fonseka is truly a most unfortunate and disturbing development (even though much that has happened in this regard, since January 2010, and even much that could happen in the future, has and will not be surprising).

Yet, the point here is that Sarath Fonseka was, and is, an interesting plaything of the politicians and there is much to be gained politically, especially if he remains in prison. For the drowning JVP, ‘Fonseka’ is the last straw that it can clutch at. More significantly, Sarath Fonseka’s arrest and imprisonment has been of immeasurable political value to Ranil Wickremasinghe and the UNP.

For Ranil Wickremasinghe in particular, ‘Sarath Fonseka’ was an object that had to be handled carefully, on all occasions. There was a time when Ranil Wickremasinghe believed that Fonseka could emerge victorious (or did he think it was not possible, and was that why he so readily endorsed Fonseka as the ‘common candidate’?); and Fonseka’s victory would have saved the UNP, saved Ranil and saved a depleted Opposition. Today, (as The Island editorial quite correctly pointed out), it is Ranil who has emerged as a possible ‘saviour’ of Sarath Fonseka. But more importantly, the entire episode of Fonseka being imprisoned and Ranil having to lead the fight as the leader of the Opposition (a fact which Ranil does not forget to stress these days) helps him divert attention from the problems he is facing within the party. It is not just the diversion of attention that is crucial here. It is the opportunity he gets to act as the Leader of the Opposition that is more important. And he uses this opportunity in the best manner possible, to drive home the message that he is the leader and no one else; in case anyone had any doubts about it.

It is also for this reason that Ranil, having rejected the 18th Amendment, rushed back to nominate TNA MP, MA Sumanthiran as his nominee to the Parliamentary Council set up under the 18th Amendment. Before the local press, Ranil tried to come up with a politically bizarre and comical argument to the effect that he was trying to make the 18th Amendment unworkable, just like the 17th Amendment. But then, one always noticed that Ranil’s real motive was different. It was to show that he is still in control of the Opposition, that he was indeed the leader of the Opposition, and because he was the leader of Opposition, he was nominating Sumanthiran – since the leader of the Opposition is required to do so, under the 18th Amendment. Having avoided the debate on the 18th Amendment, Ranil seems to have suddenly realized that it is not the 18th Amendment which is the problem, but not acting as the leader of the Opposition as per the provisions of the 18th Amendment that would be the problem.

All of this is quite apparent, and is not a mystery. This is why witnessing the mere presence of Ranil Wickremasinghe in any one of the protest campaigns carried out in defence of Fonseka evokes in one a sudden guffaw; uncontrollable at times, but saddening, none the less. He is here, there and everywhere nowadays, as he needs to act as a leader of the Opposition.

However, there are more serious matters that the opposition and all these politicians would need to face in the future. They should very well know that all this chest-beating could come a cropper sooner or later. A more mature understanding of the whole process and what is to come next in this Fonseka episode seems to be conveniently forgotten; for it needs to be remembered that a Presidential pardon could be of little value, if there is no guarantee that Fonseka would not end up in prison again. There are a number of cases which have begun already; one being the ‘White-flag’ case, wherein Fonseka appears to be charged on three counts under the Criminal Procedure Code and the Emergency Regulations (sec. 28 and 29). Under these circumstances, the demand for Fonseka’s release should not be based solely on the punishment meted out by the court martial. Given these facts, it is rather unfortunate to note the rather immature, emotive and politically motivated plea made by Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thero. If 100 monks are ready to go to prison to save Sarath Fonseka, how many more would be needed to save him if he is imprisoned again? Such pleas just add more humor to what should not be a humorous matter.

The possibility of Sarath Fonseka being imprisoned by the civil courts on a future date should not be written off so easily. At least, the government seems to be acting in a way that shows that it is confident of Fonseka going in again, or that more years will be added to his current term in prison. Members of the government keep stressing the fact that a Presidential pardon could be expected only if the plea is seen to be coming from the correct channels (i.e. through the family members of Fonseka). But why should the government, or President Rajapaksa, show any willingness to pardon Fonseka, after having done so much to ensure that he is convicted and jailed? Surely, this would show that all is not over yet. Surely Ranil would know this too.

One important reason why this fact of ‘imprisonment’ should not be taken lightly is due to the implications that arise when a Member of Parliament is imprisoned. The imprisonment of Fonseka means that sooner or later, one would need to asses whether or not Fonseka would be able to enter Parliament through an election as per the provisions contained in Chapter XIV, Article 89, of the Constitution, and if he is able to, when that could happen. That is why the imprisonment of Fonseka means so many things to so many people. For the current administration, it is a sure way of ensuring that he does not pose a threat of any sort, even on the issue of war-crimes in the future. For the likes of Ranil, this ensures that the man, even if released, would not easily return to Parliament for quite some time. Hence, pardoning Fonseka is certainly not in the interest of President Rajapaksa or Ranil Wickremasinghe. But they still don’t lose much, if on a later date, the civil courts imprison him once again. Therefore, the fate of Fonseka’s political career seems to be somewhat clear, and all what the politicians are engaged in seems to be a mere political act.

Given all this, Sarath Fonseka is stranded. Under these circumstances, one wonders where his erstwhile supporters are, one being former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva. One cannot forget the way in which Sarath N. Silva defended Fonseka, quoting so eloquently, inter alia, the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to assert that Fonseka’s fundamental civil and political rights were violated. But much could have been done by the Opposition to exert some pressure, had there been no doubt on Sri Lanka’s status concerning the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. Sarath Fonseka, having exhausted all the domestic remedies available to him (as required under the Protocol) could have approached the Human Rights Committee to obtain its views if he had felt that his fundamental rights had been violated. These views could have been used by the Fonseka campaign internationally, which would have undoubtedly been of some persuasive value (even though they would not have any legally binding effect).

But then, this is not possible, since it is former CJ Sarath N. Silva who held, in the Singarasa judgment in 2006 that Sri Lanka’s accession to the ICCPR Optional Protocol was inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution, and that the accession does not have any legal effect within the State. Therefore, at a time when one would have just expected Sarath N. Silva to step forward and try to rescue his ‘friend’, Sarath N Silva goes missing. Unfortunately, he too seems to have played the political game and ditched Fonseka (on a related note, it is also no wonder as to what the fate of the ICCPR Optional Protocol would be under these circumstances, and quite ironically, the government seems to have been ‘saved’ by Sarath N. Silva’s judgment).

Is this then the end of Sarath Fonseka’s political career and who are his political friends? When would he come out, or could he? Is his release of any genuine concern to those politicians leading the Fonseka-campaign today? Whether all this would matter much, one does not know. For, who was Sarath Fonseka to them but a mere plaything with which they could play little political games whenever the necessity arose? That was perhaps why the man who was one day branded unfit to lead even a Salvation Army according to some, was suddenly good enough to lead the country the next day.

(Kalana Senaratne, LL.B., LL.M. (University College London) is currently a postgraduate research student at the Law Faculty of the University of Hong Kong)

  • I only feel sorry for him for I do not know if he is guilty of all these charges or not. So I can’t pass any judgment. One aspect of him I know, is that he has a broad mouth and his brain is not keeping up with it.
    While I am thankful to all the soldiers, who sacrificed their lives, limbs to secure Sri Lanka from the terrorists, I will never be a soldier. ‘cos I do not want to be someones fodder or follow orders. Sarath Fonseka was fodder in the war fields then, as he is now, fodder in the political mine field. I think everyone has chewed the juice off him. I think he is done for, no one wants a criminal. Perhaps Australia, once he is done with serving?

  • Ananda Seneviratne, Ph.D.

    As a Sri Lankan, I am not worrying about Ranil W but I am more worrying about JVP’s tactics knowing how much they have ruined our country in the past. More than anything else, one should find out what made and who was responsible for breaking the bond between Rajapakse’s and Fonseka. Until the very end of the war, they were the best “buddies” and even he was promoted and gave the rank of General. This is where I think either UNP or JVP or both responsible for breaking this bond. Was Gen Fonseka actually for a coup?Is that the main or only reason for breaking that bond? . If it was true, and everything else he said in political rallies and media inlcuding white flag incident, didnt Fonseak asked for troubles?. If it was not true who gave that wrong informaion to Rajapakses and responsible for breaking that bond between them?
    More importanly, nothing of these political and Fonseka issues should not hinder the current econominc and other development work going on. Further, if these events led for remenent LTTE to reorganize, thats is a big worry for all Sri Lankans.

  • TT

    I partly disagree that SF was a plaything of politicians. In fact he refused to play by the rules of politicians!

    1. I came to know SF in 2002 or 2003 when he stood up firm against politicians and adamently refused to move HSZs in Jaffna one inch. It was after his hard stand that CBK “endorsed” it (a face save measure at a time when she had only de jure powers).

    2. In 2007 when the budget was hanging in balance, SF had gone the extra mile in telling the JVP not to disrupt the budget. The 2007 budget was presented a bit differently. First the US$ 1,500,000,000 defence budget was passed by a huge majority with only 18 or so voting against. There was absolutely no problem with that. The probelm was with the ‘other’ budget. That is when SF told politicians what to do.

    3. In 2008 SF made many political statements bypassing politicians. One such statement was that “Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese”. This was not the view of the government, nor the opposition. But it made him popular in some quarters. He became unpopular in some other quarters but it didn’t matter because the very same people who critisised him for it, knell down at his feet during the presidential election! A strange thing indeed!

    4. He made anotehr very powerful political statement that made politicians very uncomfortable but most Sri Lankans less uncomfortable (to say the least). When dozens of Tamil Nadu people were committing self imolation over the war, when Tamil Nadu was holding protest after protest to stop the war and when Tamil Nadu leadership threaten to resign from their posts, SF as the main architect of the war called them ‘jokers’ and refused to retract the statement. No politician could get him to retract his statement! That is what made SF the politician who refused to bow down to jokers.

    5. After the war he wanted to increase the army up to 500,000 which was rejected by the defence minister. He wanted to further strengtehn the weaponry of the army. Again this move was put down by politicians. However, this time he could not assert his way.

    6. At the presidential election campaign he got the support of the TNA without offering any Tamil aspirations to TNA! Now who is whose plaything?

    7. At the presidential election campaign he refused JVP left wing politics, UNP’s right wing politics. Another example why he was not a politicians’ plaything.

    8. He became the JVP parliamentary group leader by default and there was nothing the JVP could do. Obviously he didn;t fit into the JVP perception but there was nothing the JVP could do.

    However, politicians finally got to him. Unfortunately politics cannot be done the way wars are won. At least not at the moment. I’m very happy Sarath Fonseka didn’t become the UNP leader. His views are incompatible with the UNP.

  • John Brown

    Sarath Fonseka is a real hero. He is strong and honest compared to 99% of cabinet minsters who are corrupted. Sri Lanka need this type of leader to eradicate corruption.

    All the allegations against Fonseka are well fabricated . Judges and courts who examined those things are baised towards MR regime. Judges inthe Military Court are junior officers punished by Fonseka for corruption.

    Can any one expect justice from such a corrupted system.

  • Ranarala

    John Brown where have you been all these days , You have many names , Podi Appuhamy is another name for you isn’t it. You are a bankrupt supporter of SF who will end up with no result.During the election campaign also you misguided the public.Now what is discussed is of no use. As intelligent people including Wijedasa Rajapakse of UNP says that the only option left is seek a pardon by SF family without being political tools of the bankrupt political parties like UNP & JVP if they are having a real love to her husband or their fathre.Later we can test the honesty of SF once he is released. Stop fishing in trouble water MR Brown

  • NAK

    Everybody seems to have forgotten the role big money played in this episode.

  • Janaka Senevirathne

    Excellent article and it summarises the whole story. Well Done Kalana Senaratne

    The article describes the ” Marco level Political Tactics” where poor General been the only ” Victim”. People who used him are still in Parliment enjoying the benefits, this is both in government and in opposition while he is in jail.

    General Fonseka, definitely a hero but should have been more prudent.

    Congratulations to Ranil and the gang and a warm welcome to General to the world of ” Politics”.

    This is a great lesson for all of us where we should use the brain rather than the heart, perhaps?

  • Rohna jayawardana

    Ranarala is the simple example for the average of brain washed srilankens today.

    There are lots of lankens who cant see beyond what the govt is preaching. No matter, even elections held had been over corrupted, they just need to say yes to MR and thugs. I wish I could know more about the pettitions that were produced before the courts in terms of pressi election results.

    Atleast 4 mio of the country which makes up 20% of lankens were aware that the results annouced by ELECTION commiossioner were completlty wrong.

    So, MR and GOVERNING politicians do what they think right to stay in power – wonder why majority of us cant see – but behave as blind. Entire world including funds pumpling nations look at the country today with unkind eye. Even in the UN assembly lately held, MR was just ignored by majority of natiions but lankens seem to be far from seeing the truth as it is.. – stupid

  • Raj

    For those who blame JVP for supporting SF during the PE, I have to tell one thing. JVP in politic never acted on their own interest except for the best interests of the country.. JVP could very well have accepted dozens of ministerial posts and have a very comfortable life if they choose to back Mahinda’s kind of politics like JHU and Weerawanse today..

    JVP in 2004 left their ministerial posts because CBK never allowed them to work. No funds were allocated or even blocked. Each and every steps were taken by CBK and her SLFP ministers to undermine JVP ministers activities. So Instead of getting ministerial salaries and wasting public money the opted to leave those posts.

    In 2005 after MR was elected they proposed an action plan to MR to get rid of corruptions and stop unwanted waste, If MR wants them (JVP) to accept ministerial posts. But MR choose to turndown that request and accepted 17 monkeys form the UNP. That is how JVP stayed away from MR’s politics… If JVP accepted MR’s politics they could still be holding dozens of ministerial posts and have a good life country’s expense..Alll who blame them today could have been praising them just like for weerawanse..

    In 2010, after the war was won, JVP looked for the best interest of the country.. It was no doubt a leadership that can unite people, ensure justice, reduce corruptions and make a disciplined society..Simply the post war Sri Lanka needs some one who can address root course of terrorism. That is the only reason why JVP was very happy to back SF.. Today, we can very clearly see the accuracy of JVP’s choice where, government has not been able to find a single valid point against SF. It is only through the kangaroo type court procedures where he has been punished to take the revenge..

    What we can see today is country have been taken back to 77 era where the foundations were laid for two civil wars in the country..

  • Assupisela – Canada

    Those who believe SF was the only “HERO” who should be credited of winning the 30 year long war are idiots. Military is a great establishment any country has. It is a chain of command consist of many regiments called Support or Tteeth arms Infantry and Services. All of them have their own roll & tasks to perform like a chain.
    The other fact is military (Army) it self cannot win any wars they need the Air force as well as Navy (in our case SL is an Island) together they achieved the victory. (not to forget police and some civil organizations)Today Tamils are very proud about their dead terrorist leader Prabakaran for what they believe he died fought and killed during the battle for his people(Tamil’s) but for us Sinhalese are divided (as usual) that’s why we dragged this war for 30 years or so and SF is in the jail for his stupidity.
    My war hero is non other than our President “MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA” last 30 years we had many presidents who could not end this war rather they escalated by corruptions finally we got the real and genuine hero to save our mother land “Long Live Our President Mahinda Rajapaksa”.

  • wijayapala

    Dear Assupisela,

    Today Tamils are very proud about their dead terrorist leader Prabakaran for what they believe he died fought and killed during the battle for his people(Tamil’s)

    Would you compare Tamils’ pride for Prabakaran with Sinhalese pride for Mahinda?

  • ordinary lankan

    The lid is off
    let us see people
    as they are
    not pretty
    but this is the truth

    who are the parents
    who brought up
    these children?

    let truth and reconciliation
    begin in our families
    let all contradictions
    be resolved within

  • TT

    Assupisela,

    If Sri Lankans blindly support the president as some Tamil supported and are proud of VP, then there is a problem, isn’t it?

    VP was the sole representative of the de facto state under LTTE control but the president is not the sole representative of SL.

    You must accomodate differing views. Others are not “idiots” for holding a differing view.

    Yes he won the war which could not be won for 30 years by many leaders but he won it with SF, not with Shantha Kottegoda. I’m not saying SF is clean.

    Do you see that due to this SF affair, we don’t see the wood for the trees?

    There are more imoprtant things people should be concentrated on in the political front than the SF affair. I think it is a clever plan to keep people’s limited political awareness occupied.

  • With apologies to Pastor Martin Niemöller…

    ‘BIG’ brother and his ‘GOAT’ brother came in ‘Unidentified Four Wheeled Objects’ (UFWOs) for the TAMILS,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a TAMIL.

    Then they came for the Journalists’,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Journalist.

    Then they came for the General,
    and I didn’t speak up because I didn’t like the armed forces or the General.

    Then they came for Dr.The Yarn and others of his ilk,
    and I didn’t speak up because I didn’t like ‘Useful Idiots,’

    Then they came for me and other’s off the ‘silent minority,’
    and by that time no one was left to speak up.

  • sinhala_voice

    The MAIN thing is to RELEASE THIS MAN who has served many Sri Lankan governments through 40 years in public service.

    FORGET ABOUT HIS POLITICS OR THE POLITICS OF THE CURRENT REGIME.

    IF he (Sarath Fonseka) betrays the nation then people we see it.

    SO RELEASE HIM.

    Sarath Fonseka is Selfish so is Mahinda Rajapakse.

    But government of Sri Lanka can not be selfish.

    It MUST ACT IN THE interest of the people of Sri Lanka at ALL times and UNCONDITIONALLY.

  • Dr. Mevyn Silva

    Presidunce Bean,

    I am also apologising to the Niemoller when I am saying this:

    First they came for the joos.
    I asked what joos you like? Apple or orange? I am myself liking the coconut joos with alcohol in it. Maybe I can send a boy to one of the shops I ordered to close and get you bottle. No charge. I am the king of the Kelaniya side.

    Then they came for the communists. I am laughing and asking what communists? There are no Communists in our country now. They are all with the government.

    Then they came for the catholics also. I am asking whay you coming for Catholics? Are they going to get big ministry or something? If so I will also be Catholic right now.

    They never came for me. Maybe I will go and see why.

  • Supun Jaywardene

    If SF should be in jail why not MR and other politicians who are also not clear enough to be free.

    If Ltte leaders can openly be pardoned why not SF.

    If Gotta can resound his voice even if he had been away from the country while the war was not limited the last 4 yrs he s been in the country, why not the rulers go against him ?

    If Mervin Silva – is set to be free regardless of what he continues why SF ?

    These are what many ask themselves today – Let all these go through your head – not once but several times then u will realize- SF´s imprisonment is -POLITICALLY AND TARGETED REVENGE by MR govt.