By Kath Noble –
When launching an initiative in Sri Lanka, it is well known that one should be careful to call it the opposite of what it really is. Worried about infighting? Then be sure to include the word ‘united’ in the title. Concerned that the dubious public image of the leaders may dissuade people from joining up? Then it is inspirational concepts like ‘freedom’ that one needs to reference.
And so it is with the National Movement for Social Justice, whose inaugural rally was held in Colombo last week.
Sarath Fonseka‘s latest attempt to resurrect his political career was a flop. Several hundred people came to listen to him speak. But he could not get the support of any established political parties, which is after all what is needed when it comes to winning elections. The organisers didn’t bother to invite the TNA, the JVP was united in ignoring the event, and even the UNP reformists weren’t keen on attending – Sajith Premadasa was convinced from the off that it wasn’t worth the struggle with Ranil Wickremasinghe, while Karu Jayasuriya left it to the last minute to decide to drop out. Even the remnants of the DNA, which Sarath Fonseka himself established, didn’t all show up.
He was left with the United Bhikkhu Front and a few individuals like Sarath N Silva, former Chief Justice, about whom the less said the better, plus assorted NGOs.
As such, Sarath Fonseka proved once and for all that his role as the ‘common candidate’ in the 2010 presidential election campaign was a one-off. It was an extraordinary contest at an extraordinary moment in the country’s history. Just a few months after the end of the generation-long war, the Army Commander took on his Commander-in-Chief. He will not get another chance.
I am relieved, I must say.
Few people believed Sarath Fonseka’s pledge to abolish the Executive Presidency when he made it the first time around. Indeed, even he didn’t seem totally convinced, so busy as he was making promises.
I certainly didn’t trust him to give up power. For why did he enter politics? Because he was upset at Mahinda Rajapaksa‘s refusal to allow him to further increase his empire as Army Commander. His plan for the post-war expansion of the Army was rejected by the Government. Critical as I am of Mahinda Rajapaksa, I believe that this decision indicates that he is not as bad as Sarath Fonseka might have been.
While this may not be saying much, it is the choice that Sri Lanka was faced with.
Also, justified or otherwise, Sarath Fonseka was commonly regarded as a guy concerned more with ends than means. Even if this was necessary in the circumstances, which is debatable, surely we can all agree that it is not a desirable trait in a peacetime leader? In peacetime, there can be no discussion about the acceptability of exceptions to the rule of law, although, as we have seen in the last three years, they may still occur in abundance. (Mahinda Rajapaksa is working hard to develop a similar reputation for himself.) But although we do not know for sure who is responsible for many of the worst crimes committed during the war, such as the various attacks on journalists (now totally forgotten, unlike the attempted assassination of Sarath Fonseka, one of the perpetrators of which was sentenced to 35 years rigorous imprisonment this week), I don’t think that there is any chance that Sarath Fonseka is less guilty than Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sarath Fonseka may have changed since then, having lost first an election and then his liberty. But I still believe that there are many people more suited to running the country than him.
I also believe that symbolism is important. Sri Lanka’s president should not be a military man.
Of course there is nothing wrong with people from other fields going into politics after their retirement. Even there is nothing wrong with military men going into politics. But the presidency is different. The president represents the country, to its people and with the rest of the world. Sri Lanka should be giving the impression that it is moving away from the military, not drawing closer to it.
This is a sensitive time, and such matters should be handled sensitively.
It is for the same reason that the proposal being advanced by various people in the last month or so for the Ven Sobitha Thero, Chief Incumbent of the Kotte Naga Vihara, to put himself forward as a ‘common candidate’ is also undesirable.
Whether or not one agrees with the analysis of those who took up arms against the State, there is no getting away from the fact that one of their arguments was that the State is irretrievably Sinhala Buddhist in nature. And there is no need to give them another reason to think so.
Also, if the Ven Sobitha Thero were to pledge to abolish the Executive Presidency, many people would trust him.
I dare not suggest that they would be anything but wise to do so, which is why I believe that the clergy should keep out of politics altogether.
The clergy are given special treatment in view of their office, and rightly so. Religion is important to the vast majority of people in Sri Lanka, and the leaders of the various faiths play an important role in their lives. They should maintain their honoured position. But when the clergy become politicians this is impossible. Either respect for them diminishes or the democratic functioning of society is undermined. There cannot be any hesitation about criticising elected representatives.
In any case, it is not the Executive President who can abolish the Executive Presidency. That is the task of Parliament.
The real question for those who advocate a ‘common candidate’ is whether or not they can trust the UNP.
I think that last week’s rally gave us a good indication of the future, and it is a future without the National Movement for Social Justice.
The UNP may be divided, but its various factions are clearly agreed on one point – it will be putting up its own candidate for the next presidential election. Ranil Wickremasinghe will of course try to make sure that it is him. After all, he will only have been party leader for a mere 20 years by then! But he won’t have an easy time. Sajith Premadasa is perhaps starting to think that he might make it, while Karu Jayasuriya undoubtedly hasn’t given up hope either.
Sarath Fonseka’s role as the ‘common candidate’ in the 2010 presidential election campaign was only possible because the UNP was sure that it could not win, the vote taking place so soon after the war victory.
And such circumstances are unlikely to be repeated.
Rather than ignoring this reality, people interested in anything more important than Sarath Fonseka’s political career had better shift their focus away from distractions like the National Movement for Social Justice and back to where it is needed.
The established political parties need serious attention. Each one of them is in chaos, with no clearly defined programme and leaders who should have relinquished their positions long ago. They have split or they are in the process of splitting. And with each split they get weaker, leaving Sri Lankan democracy worse off. They should be looking inward, working out how to get themselves and the country out of the mess they are in, not waiting for outsiders to act.
They all have good names. They just need to remember what they mean.
*Kath Noble’s column may be accessed online at http://kathnoble.wordpress.com. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dinuk / October 25, 2012
Agreed Kath, symbolism is important. Sri Lanka’s president should not be a military man. So too the president must not be a man in Saffron Robes contrary to what another dead leftist Kumar David keeps on about!
Lasantha Pethiyagoda / October 25, 2012
I somehow feel that the writer has no sincere motivation towards the welfare of the people of Sri Lanka. She seems totally removed from any sensitivity towards the topic she writes on.
I am surprised that people like her (a meddling foreigner) are given any space in fora such as these. The only merit she might deserve is that she articulates her ideas in her first language, in which she has an advantage.
Collectively we must put her in her place, as we do not want her condescension. The patronising tone is quite repulsive also. She would do well to return to her country and perhaps start writing about the politicians there even in a third grade tabloid, where sensationalism can still draw some audience from the rather thick-headed sections of society…
Senaka / October 26, 2012
Oh grow up! Sri Lanka has been messed up by Sinhalas and Tamils after 60 years of INDEPENDENCE this is clear!
As any real social scientist knows, outsiders bring different and fresh perspectives and are more objective and see things that the tunnel vision nationalist natives like this clown Pethiyagoda simply cannot see because he is blinded by Sinhala nationalism..
Kath has a damn sight better analysis than most natives re. the problem in Lanka so stop talking bull and educate yourself jerk!
Lasantha Pethiyagoda / October 27, 2012
Those who use proxies and pseudonyms to attack others with obscenities and insults are merely showing others who they really are. Readers will judge them accordingly.
Peter / October 26, 2012
Lasantha – Speak for yourself. There are obviously quite a few who agree with Kath Noble’s views, judging from the comments on this and other posts. You sound like you have a chip on your shoulder – eg: “I am surprised that people like her (a meddling foreigner) are given any space in fora such as these. The only merit she might deserve is that she articulates her ideas in her first language, in which she has an advantage.”
Dodo / October 27, 2012
‘Meddling foreigners’ are preferable to dumb natives like LP who live in total ignorance and arrogance and hate people who talk some sense..
Get lost prat!
whywhy / October 25, 2012
Kath says Srilanka’s president should not be a military man.Fine.Our UNP
leader RW wants military discipline for his party to win MR!Any suggestions?
NeilP / October 25, 2012
Let us defeat the “One Man show of the One Man Agenda” by making the next Presidential elections a One-issue election. Let us not fight about who the common candidate will be. A suitable candidate will emerge. Let us popularise the idea and throw the MR regime together with the executive presidency.
Dr Dayan Jayatilleka / October 25, 2012
One need not agree with everything Ms Noble currently writes– I do not– to note with gratitude that she wrote consistently and frequently in support of Sri Lanka and against the LTTE when hardly any Westerners did so, throughout the last war. She continued to do this in the pages of the Indian press when she relocated to New Delhi for her PhD. Padraig Colman was another such Westerner who wrote balanced articles on Sri Lanka, though he published less frequently than Kath. Kath worked with Prof Rajiva Wijesinha for the Sri Lankan Peace Secretariat (SCOPP) and was present to support us in Geneva during some of the crucial battles at the UNHRC in 2008-9. It was an asset to have a young Western woman with a first class degree in mathematics from Oxford, on our side. I wonder where her ‘nationalist’– actually xenophobic and racist– critics were then! Their names do not ring any bells.
Samith / October 25, 2012
I notice the same in her and several others as you explain that the style of writers become similar to Ms Noble`current contents while writers like you – DJ and few likeminded seem unchanged -because you are bound NOT to your own principles but to MR´s.
Why she did not see them earlier can well be connected to her lack of adequate knowledge about the very areas.
Daniel / October 25, 2012
Ms Noble is changing her of writing when happenings in the post war episode in the country are becoming more familiar to her. May be she had studied the real issues not that broadly at the time, she wrote them earlier.
My question to you Dayan J, when you would change your way of writing, as one who have facts on your hand to do so ?
Dr Dayan Jayatilleka / October 26, 2012
When you start writing for publication. Under your full name, as I do :))
Beyond surprised / October 28, 2012
Your “erudition” and “analysis” really is a pain in the butt! Your particular circle is nearing completion, though: Padraig Colman, Kath Noble and the rest of the sycophantic brigade to which you, that other … Rajiva Wijesinha, Namal’s ayah etc. make your usual contributions is truly laughable.
Kath Noble’s “Critical as I am of Mahinda Rajapaksa,…” only confirms the credentials of you, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-your-mouths people!
Roger Gross / October 26, 2012
US had Eisenhower and many more with military experience as Presidents. Many had served including the weak liberal Jimmy Carter who served in a Nuclear submarine. I am not sure why you are doing this “should” “must” rubbish about Sri Lanka unless you have domestic ties or live in Sri Lanka. US is one of the most militarized developed nations which spends T more on defense than the next ten biggest spending nations combined. Things are different in the UK but war mongers teem even in England. That is why they invaded Iraq at the behest of the US and killed over 100,000 civilians. Fonseka would never have been a democratic person. His mentality and his personality would not have allowed that. When he was rebuffed in his attempts before his friend Gotabaya became Def. Secy he became really vengeful and spiteful at Chandrika Kumaratunge the previous President. He hated her because she refused his requests for extensions and to be made commander. He was definitely the right man at the right time to lead a beaten army and is a brilliant General. He would be like Montgomery and Patton combined; both of them had severe setbacks but ultimately persevered. or perhaps he is even more like Marshal Zhukov if you look at his egotistical initial offensive actions in Jaffna peninsula that cost lives and expensive equipment. He is head strong but with a severe chip on his shoulder because of his humble rural beginnings. If he won, he would have killed the Rajapakses and ruled with an iron hand. Look at what he tried to do to the current Army commander(a compliant man loyal to Gota).. Chandrika also slammed him when she was President only to do a turn around when she was no longer relevant to SL politics and wanted t o somehow desperately get on stage. that is why she endorsed General Fonseka. it was not out of conviction or out of love for Sri Lanka or democracy. She wanted the General to get even with Mahinda. He on the other hand said he will “Fix that bloody b^&*($” when she rejected him/ There wheels within wheels here.
Leela / October 26, 2012
I too agree with most of what Kath has written and also scenarios that Roger Gross touched.
I must say, it is Sinhala rural folks that prevailed peace and saved this county by voting for MR at the last Presidential election. I can understand Tamils in general voting for SF, and the TNA and NGOs fully backed SF for they have their separatist agenda. But, other than their hate, I am at a loss to find why UNPers and Colombo wallah supported SF.
Needless to say, had SF won, this country would have been divided and plunged in to the worst bloodbath in history by now.
Roger Gross / October 26, 2012
Pay heed to the ridiculous assault on the judiciary. The paranoid leaders; pay attention to how they changed the constitution so that the President can run for a third term.
Jeff Barnes / October 26, 2012
A minor A/C leak in the Air Lanka flight which needed only a duct tape to fix made MR to abandon the whole flight, suspend the AL chief engineer from work, inquiry into the other ground staff and boarding and chartering another AL plane for a four hour Dubai trip. What can you call this other than power hungry, life scared morons who not only brought ill fame to our own already loss making sole carrier AL, but also brought down it’s reputation among the world. If anyone thinks that they could be chased easily from the super luxury life they lead….it’s a mistake.We need more of Gen. Sarath Fonseka like battle hardened real men to chase these crooks for good and put the country back to correct path.
Saman Wijesiri / October 26, 2012
To say that the inaugural rally of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMFSC) held on October 18 in Colombo under the aegis of the Eksath Bhikkhu Peramuna (EBP) was a flop is a matter of opinion. On the contrary, there are many people who hold the view that the rally was a great success given the torrential rains that the participants had to brave. Some had estimated the turn out at the rally at some 2,000 and some others at 5,000. However, the fact remains that several hundreds had attended the rally despite the inclement weather and other deterrents.
Why can’t we presume that the UNP reformists such as Karu, Sajith and Dayasiri kept away for strategic reasons? The UNP’s national convention is round the corner, and surely the reformists would not want to court suspension of their membership at this juncture or give an excuse to RW to prevent them from attending this important event.
True, Karu did not turn up. It does not mean, he had had second thought about supporting the (NMFSJ)!
As for not inviting the TNA,the organizers may have thought it was too early to seek their participation. Besides, the TNA is busy with other irons in the fire at the moment. The organizers also may have considered a patently possible scenario: Wimal, Patali and Nalin de Silva and his crowd howling that the NBP ad Sarath Fonseka had betrayed the nation by joining forces with LTTE agents. They would brand the Peramuna leaders and Sarath Fonseka as traitors and pawns in the hands of international conspirators against Sri Lanka! There are enough people in the country who are so gullible as to believe such propaganda.
Do the people see SF’s military career as an obstacle to wearing the mantle of national leadership? Did 4.7 million people who voted for him at the last Presidential election consider his military background as a disqualification for him to aspire to national leadership? Here I recall that at one stage in the past, the UNP supporters looked on the late Major General Janaka Perera as a future leader of the UNP.
Many people believe that both Karu and Sajith are also leadership material and they may give way for SF to take over the leadership if the circumstances demand such a move.
The SI concept as defined by veteran leftist Prof. Kumar David is fast gaining ground in the country. There is a strong possibility that the NMFSJ will serve as the main vehicle of this concept.
Kath says she is happy that MR had shot down a proposal by SF to expand the post-war army. She proceeds to offer a bouquet to MR for turning down SF’s proposal. But what has the government been doing in the North since the ending of the war? Not expanding the army and strengthening its presence in the North? Besides, why should we readily accept MR’s word? SF has not given his version of what he is supposed to have proposed.
Parliament can never abolish the Executive Presidency under the present set up. One should consider not only the Constitutional impediments, but also negative factors spawned by the prevailing political culture. It is far from the truth to say that the UNP though divided are one on fielding their own candidate at the next Presidential election.
I think it is too early to write off SF as a spent force or a political nonentity. I wish to add that many in the country look forward to the NMFSJ developing into a vibrant and popular mass moment if it assumes a truly secular character.
Leela / October 27, 2012
Executive Presidency help defeat terrorism. At least that’s what election results reflects as people believe. That means, vast majority doesn’t see any acts by current President being vile. On the contrary vast majority believe it helps country to remain stable. Therefore, people have no interest in abolishing Presidency. Claims by opposition that government win elections by fraud is only an excuse for not acceptability of opposition policies to mass.
Sam Fernando / October 27, 2012
War is no longer there, Executive Presidency can not help the nation/country anymore. We the lankens should have a system that the Parliament has more powers. See, today, almost every ministry cant react independently.
If the general public is well informed about the need of abolishing the current system, only, they would ever be able to realize the impact of this change. This can make possible, if Opposition, people and local media could work together, since the nation is said to be over 90% literate folk.
Leela, so long no opinion polls are carried out, one cant SEE THE real opinion of the people on EXECUTIVE PRESIDENCY. Ours is a country- no reliable opinion polls are carried out as it is the case in UK or other european countries.
Leela / October 28, 2012
You may be right; reliable opinion polls are not here. But still, one can easily gauge which way public opinion swing by observing various omissions and commissions of interested parties.
You said SF’s rally is a great success. I cannot vouch for it or dispute it for I hadn’t been there. For one thing, if it was a success, SF will definitely have more of them in the near future. If he doesn’t means the rally must have been a flop. That’s what I mean.
One aim of JRJ in introducing direct Presidential system was to bring about stability to the government for its full term and thereby a rapid progress to the country. I wasn’t here then but we thought he is right. Within few years though, JRJ needed undated letters of resignations in addition to his 5/6th majority in parliament to hold on to his executive powers. Why? He failed to handle yakkos right. That is a must game and MR is doing it very well.
JRJ acts and Chandrika becoming the namesake President shows unless the President has the confidence of the legislature, executive presidency becomes nothing. Simple majority in parliament made RanilW a kind of an all powerful executive prime minister. So we have a balance if only we send right people to parliament.
RanilW lost out not because ChndrikaK dissolved his UNP government but he has become unpopular and he couldn’t keep winning elections like MR does today. First and foremost, public didn’t approve his infamous agreement with LTTE, so they defeated him. It’s absurd for losers to say that RanilW should have been allowed to govern full six years. If he did it would have been chaos and anarchy here.
MR retains his executive powers as well as two third majorities without undated letters of resignations. It’s surprising why MR appointed some geriatric but unsure leftists to parliament. I say, we should retain executive Presidency as it is.
Sam Fernando / October 28, 2012
As read on the results issue by DE of SL:
Mahinda Rajapaksha 6,015,934 57.88%
Sarath Fonseka 4,173,185 40.15%
Even if all computer gimicks and the related manipulative activities caused the results to be read in this way,there were still roughly about 40% of voters in the country who were against MRs reelection. This was not before war winning but after that. Meaning they were the ones who want EP to have got abolished. Also considering all the REALIABLE FORM of news from what I read on the media today- even more significant fractions of MRs sympathisers do want him to abolish EP.
This means a country wide referrendem will have to reveal that the half of the nation will want EP to be abolished.
Sam Fernando / October 28, 2012
Quoting from you:
where have I shared the following ?
“You said SF’s rally is a great success. I cannot vouch for it or dispute it for I hadn’t been there. For one thing, if it was a success, SF will definitely have more of them in the near future. If he doesn’t means the rally must have been a flop. That’s what I mean”
Siri / October 26, 2012
This country is likely to come fairly soon to the point that the people will be glad to have anyone with the spine to challenge the incumbent. Is there anyone on the horizon, Kath, apart from SF?