12 August, 2020

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Letting The General Out Of The Bottle

By The Economist  –

SARATH FONSEKA, Sri Lanka’s former army chief, emerged through the brown gates of the Welikada prison on May 21st, blowing kisses to his ecstatic supporters and declaring a vow to fight unto death for democracy.

The bright-green balloons his supporters had brought earlier that morning were already flat after hours in the sun. Their flower garlands were wilting in the heat. But as Mr Fonseka strode out of jail, their cries were jubilant: “Long live democracy! Long live our future president!”

Given the circumstances of his release, however, the presidency is not something Mr Fonseka can aspire to in the near future. He was freed after nearly two years in jail on a pardon granted by the current president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. But there was a catch. Rather than grant his political arch-rival a full discharge for his crimes, Mr Rajapaksa only shortened one of his jail terms. Thus the ailing, 61-year-old Mr Fonseka, now an ex-con, enjoys neither the right to vote nor to contest at an election—not for a while, anyway. According to the law anyone who serves more than six months in prison must forfeit his civic rights for seven years.

In his first interview since leaving prison, Mr Fonseka told The Hindu newspaper of India that all parties must form a strong, common opposition against the government. People will decide who should lead it, he said. Tiran Alles, a parliamentarian from Mr Fonseka’s Democratic National Alliance who negotiated the terms of his release, said they will campaign anew for the restoration of their leader’s rights.

A full pardon had been anticipated by Mr Fonseka’s family, but the lesser deal comes as no surprise to most others. Relations between Messrs Fonseka and Rajapaksa crumbled after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009. Mr Fonseka was an ambitious general who had survived a Tamil Tiger suicide bombing to lead his troops to victory. He soon began to feel sidelined by his former commander-in-chief.

Photo AFP

Mr Rajapaksa, for his part, had come to think that the outspoken commander was getting rather too big for his army boots. And then Mr Fonseka had the audacity to challenge him at the 2010 presidential election (the first after the military victory) under an alliance led by the main opposition group, the United National Party.

Despite his war-winning credentials, the decorated General Fonseka lost to the incumbent by 1.9m votes. Even so Mr Rajapaksa saw red. In February, barely two weeks after the election, more than 100 soldiers acting on his orders surrounded his office in Colombo and took Mr Fonseka away—kicking and screaming, as it were.

Standing before a court-martial, the legality of which he challenged unsuccessfully, Mr Fonseka was cashiered for engaging in politics while in uniform. He was separately sentenced to 30 months rigorous imprisonment over irregularities in military procurements. This second conviction saw him lose the parliamentary seat he had won at a general election in April 2010 (having contested it from his detention).

In November 2011, Mr Fonseka received an additional three-year term for giving a newspaper interview that implicated the president’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, by then the defence secretary, in an allegation of war crimes. In his own defence, Mr Fonseka claimed he was misquoted. Then another court impounded his passport before releasing him on bail—in connection with yet more charges, this time for harbouring army deserters. While Mr Fonseka received a full pardon for the first of these cases, he could still be imprisoned on the second.

Mr Fonseka maintains he has been made the victim of a vendetta. His name was pointedly omitted from official commemorations of the war. Though he was Sri Lanka’s only four-star general—an honour bestowed on him by President Rajapaksa—he has subsequently been “disappeared” from official photographs.

Human-rights campaigners and some foreign governments, including America’s, take the view that Mr Fonseka’s incarceration was politically motivated. At least one of President Rajapaksa’s own ministers has hinted that Mr Fonseka “should just have retired gracefully,” because in that case “none of this would have happened”.

Instead, even after his conditional release, the outspoken general—who routinely used court dates and photo-ops at hospitals to issue caustic remarks about the government—shows no sign of backing down. Asked why he thought the president had pardoned him from his sentence, he mused that it might have buckled beneath public pressure.

A senior government minister, who requested anonymity, said the president’s reasons were more devious. Mr Fonseka, in this minister’s analysis, was more of a threat to the government “inside [jail] than out”. He was politically immature and will “soon shoot himself in the foot, as he has done in the past.” He will split the opposition too, his adversary predicts gleefully.

It seems like a risky tactical play, if that’s what it is. The government’s popularity has waned in recent months, particularly over the spiralling cost of living. And Mr Fonseka can still draw a spontaneous crowd more effectively than any other opposition leader.

A woman who waited in the sweltering heat outside the prison for hours to catch a glimpse of Mr Fonseka said she didn’t come there come there “for 100 rupees and a pack of rice”—the bribe politicians typically offer to boost attendance at their rallies. She came because she felt a war hero had been done wrong.

She did vote for President Rajapaksa, she says, “but that was some time ago”.

 

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Latest comments

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    lets train sf play blackjack till 2019 in srilankan casino meanwhile he can form politics.

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    The uneducated uncultured rascals will be swept away on the popular tide supporting the war hero Fonseka.
    Post your pictures all over the country and see what happens to them you frauds who cheated election .

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      How nice of the defeated Tamil tiger terrorists to call Fonseka a war hero!Of course Fonseka is a war hero because he gave the military leadership to save thousands of innocent Tamils from the clutches of the barbaric Tamil Tiger monsters.The Tamils ought to worship Fonseka.But when will these ungratefuls ever learn how to be grateful!

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    Rajapakse is clearly facing a dilema with SF – between a rock and heard place, or the devil and deep blue sea! Sarath Fonseka had to be relased due to the U.S resolution in Geneva and mounting international pressure, but his realse is going to bring a lot more trouble to Rajapakse if SF sticks firmly to his promise to “clean up Lanka’s political culture” . SF will score big with the people on this and any one he backs in future elections is likely to win. However, in the long run I reckon that neither Fonseka nor Rajapakse is any good as PResident of Lanka at this time. Both collaborated to kill journalists and violate human rights and militarize the cournty. Those who are so triumphant about SF should think again. He is a hot head who is likely to run amok and it was the height of irresponbility for Ranil W of the UNP to make him a Presidential candidate!

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    Sri Lanka needs a robust parliamentary system where the government should feel obliged to genuinely respect the views of the opposition, in conducting matters of state.

    Sarath Fonseka must also learn to speak with respect (perhaps engaging a public relations consultant)despite what he might percieve as the injustices done against him.People respect those who respect others and use words with civility.

    If I were him, I would not be seen in public photos or video footage with out-of-date and failed political figures who will, through their selfish interests, bring him down with them (again).

    I would also get a thorough dental reconstruction job done so that the smile looks more attractive.It would be optional to dye the hair jet-black (even GL Peries has done it with some measure of success).

    Political viability will be tested on a variety of planes and in a variety of public circumstances. Survival in this hugely competitive activity will ultimately depend to a large extent on how he handles these challenges.

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    What Lasantha says is timely.Fonseka ought to know how to control his speech in politics.Arrogant attitude will not help.Playing to the so called international gallery will not win him votes.I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets on board with the likes of the TNA.In that case he might as well say good bye to coming to power.

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    I fully agree with Lasantha Pethiyagoda. Good advice!

    On 21st all the rejects scraps craps and nobodies were around him which he really doesn’t deserve! And as long as these conspirators are around him those who really matter would not come near Fonseka. Great many of those who are very near to Fonseka are utter donkeys. For example Tiran Allas says he held so called “talks” with Rajapaksha for over six months but he did not know what kind of a pardon SF would receive nor could not secure him full pardon! SF is de facto an open air prisoner now! SF has been very unfortunately subjected to all kinds of conspiracies. Another useless person is Arjuna Ranathunga who loiters around him but does not do anything practical or meaningful. The main purpose of MR in releasing SF in this fashion is to prevent him from joining hands with Ranil and also to split UNP. It is in the best interest of SF to realize where he really should go and belong. Not with Ranil and forming a junk political party with nobodies means committing sudden political suicide and SF would become a nobody like those around him. Joining with Ranil and forming the strongest force backed by majority in the country, the UNPers, disillusioned SLFPers, almost all the Tamils, many other small political parties faced with a political dead-end with Rajapakshas, neutral voters and more importantly the international support including India, US, UK, China, Russia and all the other countries-there won’t be any country in the world that does not accept or approve Ranil-would mean that once a new government is formed under Ranil, SF would be restored to his former glory, his fame, respect, achievements would be restored, his forgiveness would be sought by the whole country for the injustice done to him and an accountability process would ensue to do justice to him and to the truth. Most probably he would get to the 2nd in hierarchy and if he has the patience he would go on to occupy the leadership of the country. All this would only be possible if he makes the right political choice. If he forms a separate political party don’t ever think most UNPers would ever run after that! Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake etc. were far more seasoned and superior than SF politically and everyone knows what happened to them once they formed a new party! We hope SF would not allow history to repeat itself and deprive this long suffering nation the political salvation they seek.

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    Forget of Ranil coming in to power.He is a goner.He has the talent of getting rid of worthy supporters.Over sixty UNP MPs have gone to the other side,whatever the reason may be.He can’t even hold a May day in Colombo.Other than Jaffna he is hooted by his own supporters where ever he goes.There’s no democracy in Ranil’s UNP.He is the leader for life.Some claim that he is intelligent.May be that’s why he is languishing in the opposition.Today the UNP is governed by Ranil and a cohort of his class mates and friends.His adviser on foreign affairs is one Sagala Rathnayake,a defeated MP.Recently Ranil was accused in public by Budhika Pathrana,including allegations of homo sexuality.Yet we are to hear from Ranil regarding such grave allegations.If they are not true Ranil should have brought Budhika before a disciplinary committee.Ranil acts clown often.Remember Thoppigala Kela utterance.The latest fiasco being joining hands with the clowns of the TNA to propmote the LLRC.Ranil is a goner and a joker!

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    Kemal,

    There is truth in what you have written. But on certain points I don’t fully agree with you.

    Although the international was concerned about SF’s wrong incarceration there was not a very strong and compulsory demand for the release of SF from them. The aim of MR in releasing SF was to create an irreparable split in UNP. MR first tried this when he bribed and baited 18 odd UNP MPs along with Karu J to defect to government side and secondly by posting KJ to run for UNP leadership both attempts of which were a failure. This is his last ditched attempt to destroy UNP. His rogue government has reached its dead end now. Economically this country is bankrupt now-no money to pay even salaries now, the HR situation is appalling now and the whole world would soon be dragging them before an International Court for excesses if they fail to address the outstanding issues. There is every indication that a UNP government is in the offing. MR hopes to divide the anti-government current by introducing SF.

    “.. it was the height of irresponsibility for Ranil W of the UNP to make him a Presidential candidate!..” ??

    Rather this shows the acuteness of Ranil’s political vision and planning. The government had launched a misinformation campaign against Ranil so much so that stupid people in this country believed those lies and it was everybody’s misconception that Ranil was a total failure and that they needed an alternative to vote for but there was none in the political playing field! So Ranil gave them one! In retrospect today Ranil has caused irreparable damage to MR and his regime by using the lethal weapon in SF. SF may have used multi-barrel battery of arsenal against Tiger to crush it to destruction and to oblivion of history, inasmuch as Ranil has used the longest range political missile in SF against MR regime to counter the misinformation campaign and to avenge 2005 presidential election plunder committed by MR through LTTE leader by denying Ranil presidency as a result of preventing Tamil votes! Today after all the terminal hits have fallen on MR and his war-wining claims bled out MR is desperately trying to abort and reorient to return-guide the auto-pilot SF missile system stationed by RW back towards him using all the powers, usurping, violations, immunities and impunities under the cloak of presidency which Ranil had set out without such luxuries but a weakened opposition with the cream of the opposition defected to government side using the all-powerful presidency! Will MR succeed in using SF against RW? Never!!! RW has so far successfully faced, countered and negated the attack launched by MR using Sajith, Karu, Sirasa, media wars and various defections. RW has gone through the worst political crises one can imagine as a party leader yet the resilience, maturity and wisdom he demonstrated makes him simply the best opponent to concur the most impossible to deal with and most wicked and corrupt in nature the enemy in MR.

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    Restore all rights to General Fonseka and release all political prisoners -Mangala

    (Lanka-e-News-23.May.2012, 7.30PM) While we acknowledge the release of General Sarath Fonseka from prison as recommended by the Minister of Justice to HE the President and approved accordingly, we do register our strongest protest for restricting his civic rights in engaging in political activities, as he chooses and wish to.

    As we have come to understand, General Fonseka has been released from prison, given a remission on his sentence under Article 34 of the Constitution, which only means he had been allowed from prison, before serving the full sentence and without restoring any of the rights he was denied by the sentences and due to imprisonment. We stress that he was a “political prisoner” and his release should therefore accept him as a politician, free to involve in politics on his own accord.

    We also demand that all other political prisoners including the 234 Tamil youth on hunger strike, who are held in detention and without charges for well over 02 years be released immediately, as the government has so far failed to file any charges against any of them. Filing of charges hereafter would only mean, the government is not prepared to free them and for that purpose, charges that could not be framed for over 02 years are now being framed.

    So is the issue of all the security personnel who were victimised and punished for being in association of General Fonseka. They should also be pardoned and their previous status restored immediately.

    A government that claims, it is respecting human and civil rights and safeguards democracy, should not only be seen to be so to the world, but must also live to be so for the people of this country to engage with their conscience as free and independent people.

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    Yes absolutely! General, please control your temper and your tongue, at least this time around!

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    The fast-talking General is far more likely than merely “to shoot himself in the foot” The somewhat questionably schooled army man is a mass of contradictions. The Rajapakses are not wrong in assuming Fonseka will harm himself more out. Despite all his pleas of innocence
    it was he, who openly claimed when his Alma Mater – Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda – feted him before the General Elections that it was he who gave the order to shoot all those coming under the White Flag. So the open enquiries he now calls for can also spell trouble for him is something he probably does not realise in his inebriated state of the current wave of popularity.

    Senguttuvan

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    It’s easy to be influenced by what others will tell you that you “should” be doing, but real victory comes when you recognize and take ownership on what YOU are BEST. You know what you are best .You know your destiny. You know the fork of the road that you advance. You have the guts.

    “Success is how high you bounce when you hit the bottom “ General Patton.

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    I agree with Lasantha, Max and Chandimal and many others that GSF needs a speech writer as well as a public relation person to be a politician. GSF should realize that as he is not a politician or a soldier anymore, his language should be very cordial and to the point. I watched his interview with the BBC, what he said about War Crime charges from a point of law is correct. Unless you face the accusers you can;t prove that you are innocent. But after learning his mistakes with Sunday Leader Fredrica Janz he must allow his speech to be recorded by some one for safe keeping for future use, as in this electronic world these reporters can change any thing in an interview and introduce some thing else to put him in trouble.GSF did one mistake on the day he was released. he never thank the lot of people who did many things to support his release living in overseas countries. Still he is having time to thank them and seek their help to develop the country as most expatriate Sri Lankan are well experienced in Sustainable Development and helping him to develop the country using the Construction Industry, the backbone of the Sri lankan economy, to allow the poor Sri Lankan to feed themselves. I am of the opinion that GSF should planned his interviews with reporters before hand and take precaution to prevent any future White Flag cases?

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    Everybody be aware of this loser Max Silva! This shameless loser who swallows slipper soup of MR in his birth-suit is now trying to be the Public Relations Officer of SF! During the past he used to be the cause of unbearable internet-stench emanating from his filthy racist diatribe against anything reasonable just and correct. This chap suffers from Ranil-forbia to the extent he must see a mental doctor! Anything he writes about SF is a deception and part of a plan to attack Ranil.

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      Chandimal,I won’t say that you are a nice guy.Know why?You will call it a deception.Are you by any chance a pink lipped boy of”Thoppi-Gala” Ranil?

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    Guys ,guys , yes , yes,.. Make-up artists, speech writers, PR consultants ..ok ..Ok.. but you forgot one more thing.How about Someone who can help him to master the teleprompter. So that he too may exhibit how eloquent he is.

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