By Malinda Seneviratne –
Democracies don’t need oppositions, they need vibrant, effective and sober oppositions. Decent oppositions are about the hard work of informed and coherent appraisal of government and governance, and the grind of organizing and keeping spirit alive in anticipation of opportune political moment. It needs leaders but personality dependence is not indicative of strength but flaw.
Even powerful personalities need the backing of organizations as well as decent plans of action and the wisdom and maturity to assess with reasonable accuracy the overall political equation. Sarath Fonseka was not endowed with this kind of resource package in 2009. As JVP firebrand Lalkantha put it, Fonseka served a purpose. He was, therefore, used. Discarded.
He was released after being imprisoned for a little more than 2 years in a move that smacked of political vengeance notwithstanding the reasonable arguments for incarceration on account of being a threat to national security. He had strange friends back then and was clearly ill-advised.
There were 5 key people who backed Sarath Fonseka in 2009/10: Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera, Somawansa Amarasinghe, R. Sampanthan and Rauf Hakeem. When Fonseka was released last week, none of them were around to greet him. Tiran Alles, Parliamentarian and political associate is widely held as the ‘broker’ in getting Fonseka released. Arjuna Ranatunga, another party member, clearly chagrined, said ‘everyone should get the credit’. Some (like Jehan Perera) said Fonseka was released because the President was pressurized to do so by the USA, a wild claim considering that President Rajapaksa didn’t bow down to far greater pressure levels (to stop the military operations against the LTTE) in the last years of the conflict. Alles says, ‘No, the USA had nothing to do with it’.
Wickremesinghe has faulted Alles for not obtaining a full pardon from the President, although he himself did not lift a finger in the entire exercise. Fonseka wryly observed that the President cannot be proud of himself for holding back his (Fonseka’s) civic rights. The President has said that he doesn’t want to interfere in matters decided in a military court which is essentially saying ‘I used my discretion in one way about release and another about granting civic rights’. The political implication is obvious: Fonseka cannot run for President.
Fonseka’s wife, Anoma, claims that some UNPers secretly (that’s a keyword) back a UNP-Fonseka alliance. Another report says that UNPers have been warned not to be close to Fonseka. Prominent UNPers were seen welcoming the former Army Commander when he was released, among them some whose ‘discipline’ is being queried by the party. The JVP, although their parliamentary presence is largely thanks to having clung onto Fonseka’s coattails in April 2010, has distanced itself from Lalkantha’s dismissive comment, but hasn’t exactly been bubbling with excitement after Fonseka was released. Neither has Fonseka been chummy with his main election-ally.
In 2009/10 many anti-Rajapaksa elements in the I/NGO community backed Fonseka, betraying thereby their true political objectives; they were closer UNPers who had nothing nice to say about Fonseka when he was Army Commander. Fonseka has gone on record (after his release) to say that he took a budu pilimaya to the battlefront and took it to prison as well, a statement of fact that cannot sit too well with that crowd. He is unlikely to back ‘devolution’.
R. Sampanthan’s party, the TNA, which backed Fonseka’s presidential bid, even getting him to agree to re-merging the North and East in the event that he won the election, went on a hunger strike in support of ‘political prisoners’ (read LTTE cadres, ex-terrorists). The fact that Fonseka, who had far better credentials as a political prisoner, was not seen to deserve similar protest is not lost on alert political observers. Rauf Hakeem has since joined the Government. Mangala Samaraweera, apart from getting his time-trusted minions to run ‘news’ websites that give journalism a bad name, has not been seen or heard of for quite a while. Chandrika Kumaratunga, who gave a guarded ‘yes’ to Fonseka days before the election, has not offered any comments.
Fonseka’s true political worth was revealed in April 2010 by the number of votes his party secured, sans UNP support and with just the JVP (in its reduced circumstances) backing him. The JVP has since split in two.
The end of the road for Sarath Fonseka?
No. An online poll carried out by www.nation.lk asking voters who they believe Fonseka should align with, shows ‘Mahinda Rajapaksa’ comfortably leading Sajith Premadasa and Ranil Wickremesinghe, but lagging behind the 5th ‘choice’: ‘None of the above’. That could be a reflection of general sentiment. In other words, Fonseka should consider leaving these politicians alone (he’s certainly been used and bitten by them). Makes sense if he wants to be principled and untarnished by the machinations politicians are generally known for. Lack of an organization, however, doesn’t do much for achieving political goals. Good men and women have played and lost. Badly.
Perhaps Fonseka should seriously consider a different path. Perhaps he could ignore the lure of party politics, parliamentary and presidential aspirations and re-invent himself as someone who stands for justice, good governance and democracy. There has always been a need to address these issues, but the addressers have been such shady characters that such projects have never captured the wider public imagination. Fonseka has a history, a lot of shine and some dubious spots, but he has not covered himself with the kind of embarrassment that those mentioned above has. Harping on wrongs done to him and decrying person and not office/abuse won’t get him far, for he has a handicap: the possibility of having the ‘sour grape’ tag pinned on him.
He needs an organization, but that’s for later. He needs people, lots of people, but he has enough to start things rolling. He needs a project and one that is not about capturing power but getting the country back on track. In this he will need to be wary, more of his friends than his known detractors. It’s mine-ridden, this path, but it seems, as of now, the only sensible direction for this colorful and controversial man to take.