Colombo, Economy, Elections, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, War Crimes

Between a Horek and a Mule

Over 6 decades of independence and universal adult franchise and SL has reached probably the lowest points of its political life.

Listening, reading and drawing inferences from what’s coming out and not coming out of the 2 main camps in the presidential foray; I cannot help but come to the conclusion that the people of SL has the unenviable choice of electing either the biggest swindler in the country’s history or the most decorated military dunderhead in the country.

So far, the sitting president has made the earth shattering declaration that he will not accept campaign contributions from Prabakaran’s parents and has admitted that he may have made a few errors of judgment in appointing one or two people during his presidency. Was he talking about one or two per day; per week; or per month; I wonder. The main contender, in a moment of extremely poor judgment, blurted that the president’s brother ordered the execution of some LTTE top brass when they were in the process of surrendering to the SL Army. Then, realizing the consequences of his words, the contender tried to back track by saying that he found out through some journalists after the end of the war that an illegal order was given by Defense Secretary to one of the commanding officers but, “….This illegal order was however not carried out at ground level.  I take full responsibility for what happened on the ground.”

What?! Dear General, are you saying that the white flag waving LTTE cadres were not killed or are you saying that the white flag waving LTTE personnel were killed by the Army in the last days of the war? Or, are you saying that if these LTTE personnel were killed, they were killed by the Army and they were not carrying white flags? Also, if I recall correctly Sarath Fonseka in one of the interviews given to the Daily Mirror said that he was in China during this period. In the statement backtracking on his accusations of the Defense Secretary ordering the execution of Pulidevan, Ramesh and Nadeshan, Sarath Fonseka says that he was in touch with the commanders on ground and he was fully aware of what was happening in those fateful hours. Then, how come he only gets to know about the Defense Secretary’s directive to Brig Shevendra Silva through journalists? Looks like Fonseka has learned a thing or two about speaking from both sides of the mouth in the short period as a civilian.

One wonders whether the General has any political advisors or whether he is advising himself.

The chief contender also leveled a bevy of accusations against the incumbent and his family with regard to corruption and hoarding coffers at the expense of the country. This is no small amount – we are talking about the colossal theft of our money. At least if you follow the contender’s accusations, we won’t have to fret too long about political leaders stealing from the country because at this rate there won’t be much left to steal. I sincerely hope that Fonseka will be able to document these allegations and if elected prosecute everyone involved to the full extent of the law. Also, now that the war crimes issue has propped its ugly head again, the President and his brother will have to forego on some of that frequent flyer miles or risk getting free accommodation in The Hague. Or, will there be another retraction?

The government has been quick to jump on Fonseka’s accusations about the murder of LTTE cadres. Various ministers and other apparatchiks have shown different levels of indignation at Fonseka for tarnishing the country’s image and possibly getting into another war crimes imbroglio with the UN. The Media Minister has also declared that the reasons given by Fonseka when he tendered his resignation were not valid. Then why was the resignation accepted by the President? I am sure if Fonseka didn’t become a candidate the reasons would have been quite acceptable. The Media Minister also is on record as saying that one of the reasons for Fonseka’s resignation was the government’s rejection of his request to purchase approximately $200 million in military stocks from China and to increase Army’s numbers to 100,000. Get this – apparently the government rejected Fonseka’s requests because the government’s priority was to resettle the IDP’s as soon as possible. Yeah, right. Resettling the IDP’s became a priority for this regime only after the presidential election was confirmed. Prior to that the Rajapakse regime had two priorities; to end the war and hang on to power. The two priorities go hand in glove because once the war was won, it was most unlikely that the opposition would be able to beat the incumbent in an election if the election was held fairly soon after the victory.

On another front, the GoSL also continues it’s less than elegant tap dance with the international community. When the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions called for an explanation from the government in the aftermath of Fonseka’s comments, a letter written to the UN on behalf of the GOSL (we surmise) by the Secretary of Ministry for Human Rights was held back by the government. Most embarrassing to the GoSL and the author of the letter, the contents of the letter were already in the hands of the local media.  Then the other Professor showing his pique at losing GSP concessions from the EU, threatened to initiate legal actions against the EU. Really smart move to waste millions in legal fees when you know the chances of getting the EU to back track is pretty close to zilch. Thankfully, someone figured that it would not be a very smart move and backed down from the stance. Foreign policy brinkmanship and lack of focus continues to haunt and damage the country’s vital interests.

A government ever prepared to deal with any criticism of the Rajapakse brothers/family has been caught unprepared and off-guard over and over in the field of foreign relations. This lack of preparedness and the inability/unwillingness to grasp the intricacies of international relations displays a callous disregard for what is in the best interest of the country. The price for these follies will be borne by the average Sri Lankan.

Not much in the way of reducing the cost of living, how to tackle the ever increasing debt burden placed on the people or bringing down the price of chicken. Yes, the President is seeking a mandate to carry out his development plan. It’s good to hear that he has a plan and we hope his plan takes into account areas outside the Hambantota district. Let’s hear the details. Let’s hear how the General is going to tackle the rampant corruption and nepotism that has pervaded just about all sectors of the country.

Somehow when Sarath Fonseka talks about eradicating corruption, he sounds more believable than when the President talks about his development plans. With his military background and the lack of political baggage Fonseka probably will have the will to take on the people who have been robbing the country blind. But the big issue is whether he has the smarts to say (or not say) and the sense to do what is needed to win the election. He needs to discard that military boot from his mouth and weigh the consequences of his statements before making another faux pas like the white flag waving LTTE leadership. Fonseka needs to get his arithmetic in order if he is to pull the election off. He seems oblivious to all the advantages of incumbency and the fragmented nature of the opposition that is supporting him. Fonseka’s best argument for a change at the top is the urgent need to end the rampant corruption, nepotism and cronyism that has engulfed the nation since the incumbent came into power. However, Fonseka will have to come out and provide some details of these activities to the electorate. He seems to think that he doesn’t owe the public any details because, after all, the message is coming from Sarath Fonseka. Well, do as I say and believe what I say may work in the controlled atmosphere of the military, but it will not work in a presidential election. And once an election is lost; nobody will care how or who lost the election because the winner will get all the spoils.

Wake up Mr.Fonseka and smell the coffee. You had to work hard to defeat the LTTE, you will have to work even harder to defeat the sitting president on January 26, 2010.