By Colombo Telegraph –
Sarath Fonseka, the war winning former army commander and the former presidential contender says President Mahinda Rajapaksa is robbing the sovereignty of his people, ‘just like an 18th century sea pirate who looted ships’. “ Such actions are not condoned in any civilized country. If this happens in a country like England — which introduced electoral democracy to us — the prime minister would have been jeered, attacked with bad eggs and kicked out of power,” Fonseka says in an interview with Ranga Jayasuriya of Lakbimanews.
We below reproduce the interview in full;
Fonseka spoke to Ranga Jayasuriya about a wide range of issues including his plea for a unified opposition, his take on the internal party rivalries of the UNP and the present status of the Sri Lankan army.
What are you up to? What are your political plans?
Our objective is to topple this despotic government and chase away this corrupt ruler. I have always maintained that to accomplish that objective we need a unified opposition. I have not wavered from that position. We should forget party differences and internal party rivalries and join hands to defeat this corrupt government, which actually had won only one-third of the total votes, out of the total number of 14 million registered voters. Though they (government) claim they have a two- third majority in parliament, thanks to MPs who have been bought over, two-thirds of voters have rejected this government. Even those who voted no longer endorse the conduct of this government: family rule, dictatorial governance, the 18th Amendment, interference of judiciary, etc.
You are talking about a unified opposition but Tissa Attanayake, the UNP general secretary himself told the media that the UNP had banned their MPs from attending your rallies?
Yes. There is a problem within the UNP. They are worried that more and more MPs would defect. The UNP is divided. They should be worried as to whether their MPs would join us. What I tell the UNP is, ‘don’t worry about those minor issues. Let’s join hands and face this government.’
Why don’t you join the UNP?
There is a dispute within the UNP between two factions. If I go, then it would become a dispute involving three factions. I don’t want to get into that situation.
You have a close rapport with Karu Jayasuriya, et al…
They talk to me. Even when I was in jail, Karu Jayasuriya visited me every two weeks. Sajith Premadasa also visited me in jail. Ranil Wickremesinghe also visited me in prison. If Ranil Wickremesinghe talks to me, I would reciprocate. I am prepared to talk to anyone from the opposition on how we should organize ourselves against this government.
Someone has to set a precedence! Why don’t you lead by example? Would you join the UNP if they sort out their internal problems?
I have outlined a set of proposals on how this country should move forward. Democracy should be restored. Corruption should be curbed. The judiciary’s independence should be respected. Nepotism and political favoritism should end. So if I am to join the UNP, I should be able to see that the UNP is genuinely committed to those principles. Only then I would have a reason to think about joining the UNP.
Did Ranil Wickremesinghe talk to you after you were released from jail?
No, not yet.
It seems he is not going to talk to you…
Yes, that is part of their political strategy, I think. Most people who shouted political slogans on my behalf when I was in prison — and won the people’s applause, did very little after I was released. That is their political psychology.
What is your take on the public reaction you received since your release? You have been travelling around the country attending rallies.
Wherever I went, I had a huge public attendance. People have confidence that I can help change the dictatorial rule of this government. It is that confidence that I want to harness. What we want at the moment is good personalities to lead our campaign at electoral and district levels. Then we would be able to mobilize the public at the grassroots level.
When the opposition is divided, it is good for the government? Is there any quick fix to bring the opposition parties together?
Quick fix! If there is another presidential election, the opposition would unite overnight. It happened when the previous presidential election was announced. Since there is no election in sight, various people have divided the opposition, carved out their fiefdoms and are dragging the opposition to various directions, based on their political agendas. That is the problem.
There are UNP MPs loyal to you. But, the UNP does not want them to work with you any longer. How do you deal with the UNP now?
What I propose is that we form a unified opposition. There are UNP MPs who attend our rallies. We consider them as symbols of a unified opposition. The UNP is now working with several minor political parties but they have not invited us or the JVP or any other political group which has a mass following to join them. Let’s build a unified opposition rather than worrying about the leadership. Let people decide who the leader should be.
You have not yet been invited by the UNP to join its campaign?
What is your relationship with the JVP?
My impression about the JVP remains the same. I have always believed that the JVP members love this country and they are honest people. However, I don’t follow their political philosophy. I have a different political philosophy. Though they work together with other political parties during elections, after the elections they go their own way. That is the same thing they are doing right now. However, when the right circumstances arise, there is no question that the JVP and we can work together.
So have you invited them?
There is no point of extending an invitation to the JVP at this moment because they are following a different political philosophy.
Provincial council elections will be held in the East. Plans are afoot to hold elections in the North as well. Do you think the situation in those areas has improved since the end of the war? Is there democracy there?
If a free and fair election is held in the East, democracy would be restored. But this government would not hold free elections. There are election gimmicks and systematic rigging. That was how he (President Rajapaksa) won the presidential election as well. I don’t accept that he won the presidential election. They don’t respect the will of the people. They are flouting basic election regulations to win elections. Now they are saying that the next presidential election, which is due in 2016, will be held in 2013. They are making a mockery of the will of the people. It is a daylight robbery of the sovereignty of the people. That is an act of cowardice. We cannot accept a person who is flouting the very tenets of democracy as the leader of the country. He is robbing the people, just like an 18th Century pirate would loot ships. Such actions are not condoned in any civilized country. If this happens in a country like England — which introduced electoral democracy to us — the prime minister would have been jeered, attacked with bad eggs and kicked out of power. We don’t need to go that far. Does even a president or a prime minister in India conduct himself in such a low manner?
What has happened to this country? Why are our people so apathetic to the erosion of basic democratic values in the country?
Our country did not stoop this low before 2005. It was after that, that a thuggish and repressive political system was set in place. That is the pulse of the man who runs this country, otherwise nowhere in the world did a political leader imprison his presidential contender after the election. In fact, it was Idi Amin and Hitler who did such things. We have stooped that low.
You have one more Court case pending against you and you are criticizing the government. Don’t you see a danger?
That does not matter. I have already said that I am prepared to spend another 10 years in jail. If there is a thuggish, dictatorial ruler, the innocents would have to languish in jail. Are we to keep mum out of fear? I spent three years in jail and I would jolly well do three more years, if I have to. I am not scared.
Have you been advised (by the powers to be) to remain low key when you are released?
They may have expected that. But those who put me in jail know who I am. They have worked closely with me. Even soon after my arrest by the military police, they sent me various messages offering to release me, provided that I keep away from the country for two and half years. But even my release was implemented in a very cowardly manner. I am banned from running for elections for the next six years. Those are coward acts of people who are scared to challenge me in a proper election.
Northern elections are supposed to be held in 2013. Would you field a team to run for the Northern Provincial cCuncil?
We are not contesting the Eastern polls, but by 2013, I assume that we would have a presence in the North and we would consider running for the elections in the North. I strongly believe that the situation in the North should improve at some point in time. There is a reason. I am the military officer who rescued Tamil people from terrorism. I won more votes in the North during the presidential election than the number of votes polled by the TNA in subsequent elections. I want to serve those people.
What kind of service are you referring to?
They (people in the North) should have equal rights and opportunities. There is no point giving false promises. Earlier, they were duped into an Eelam dream. They didn’t get anything out of Eelam; they lost everything.
What is your position on the devolution of powers?
What I always say is that we need to build mutual trust between the people in the North and the South. Otherwise devolution would not be meaningful. If we fail to achieve that and proceed with a reckless devolution process, we could aggravate the current situation. Let’s start treating Tamil people equally as our first step.
As a former commander of the army and one who commanded it during the war, how do you view the present day Sri Lankan army?
The army that won the war is no more. A coward has been appointed to command it; otherwise he would not arrest his predecessor in order score brownie points from his political bosses. By that action itself he set a wrong precedence. He destroyed the discipline within the military. He appointed two star generals to hear charges against a four star general. Then, those officers I had sidelined due to their complicity in various illegal activities were appointed to important military duties. An officer who was charged with illegally transporting cattle was promoted to lead the military police. Another who had been implicated with receiving money from the LTTE was appointed to a key command position in the North. Many officers who didn’t play a significant role have now been appointed to important military positions and officers who played a key role in the war victory were sent home. Though the government’s leaders pretend that they defended a couple of those officers say for instance Shavendra Silva, Jagath Dias or Prasanna Silva, those officers are also posted out of the country. I introduced a new set of procedures pertaining to military promotions which helped officers like Shavendra Silva. That list was abolished and now cattle thieves and bribe takers have come on the top of the list again. Those officers don’t give a damn about the welfare of the soldiers. That is why more and more soldiers are deserting the army. After the end of the war, 65,000 soldiers have deserted the army. When I was the commander of the army, about 40,000 soldiers joined the army every year. Before I became the commander, only 3,000 joined the army. There were 16,000 vacancies when I became the commander of the army. Not only did I fill those vacancies, I recruited further 68,000 personnel. The army no longer has the morale it used to have during the war. Soldiers have been reduced to the level of janitors and they are being asked to clean drains. But, still I urge the soldiers not to desert the army. True, that this government does not treat the army well. But put up with it for the moment. One day, when we have a chance, we will recognize the service rendered by the military to this country.
Once you came under attack in the state media after you suggested that the military should scale down its presence in the North. What is your position on those allegations about the militarization in the North?
The state media have stooped to such a low that mudslinging and character assassinations have become its sole purpose. The language used by the chairman of SLBC is so disgraceful, not even ganja addicts in villages would use such language. Such is the calibre of people who have been endorsed by this government. The state media have been used to dupe people. A first year player was made the captain of the rugby team and when the senior players resigned in protest, they were labelled as traitors. That is what the government media does.
What I said was the right thing and I stand by it. There is no question that the number of army camps we had during the war are no longer necessary during peace time. I promised during the presidential election that high security zones should be halved within the first two months after the presidential election. This government could not accomplish that target even three years after the war. That is because persons who have been appointed to key command positions have no idea about reorganizing military bases, without compromising security. They have no idea about the military strategy. A man who returned to the country after 15 years overseas has no idea about modern military strategy.
What is your take on the growing Chinese presence here?
We had a close relationship with China dating back into centuries. And we should not forget that China supplied us 90 per cent of weapons during the war. We should be grateful. But due to this relationship, we should not compromise our relationships with other countries in the region. We all know the rivalry between India and China. Therefore, we should address Indian concerns. But this government is acting without due sensitivity to those concerns. That is the problem. India is our elder brother and our neighbour.
There is going to be another international conference on war victory organized by the Ministry of Defence.
Those conferences are used to cultivate an image of the defence secretary and to give the false impression that he commanded the army against the LTTE. In which country does a defence secretary command an army? In most other countries, such as India, it is civil servants who have been appointed as defence secretaries. They don’t appoint president’s family members as the secretary of defence and then mobilize state resources to build a cult around him.