30 September, 2020

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Sri Lanka Not Holding Out For Another War Hero

By Arjuna Ranawana

Arjuna Ranawana

Across Sri Lanka, ecstatic crowds have welcomed the release of former army commander Sarath Fonseka from jail, and it is intriguing to see whether his presence will help the fragmented opposition shift President Mahinda Rajapakse’s firm hold on power in the country, or will indeed perpetuate his rule.

In a surprise move President Rajapakse used his extraordinary executive powers to pardon and release Fonseka last month. Fonseka, who led the Sri Lankan military forces in the final decisive years of the 30-year civil war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, is the country’s premier war hero. Rajapakse fell out with his trusted army chief after the war was won by the state when Fonseka received public adulation for his role.

Fonseka was then shunted out of the army commander’s position and placed in the largely ceremonial position of chief of staff. Fonseka chose to leave and contest Rajapakse in a presidential election three years ago as the sole opposition candidate.

Rajapakse won that election easily and shortly afterwards Fonseka was arrested and convicted of a slew of offences by military and civilian courts.

Fonseka and his supporters say this was an act of vengeance by Rajapakse, and it did show up the president in a bad light.

The Rajapakse administration is the most powerful in Sri Lanka’s history. The president was at one time supremely popular. But that popularity is waning as the cost of living rises speedily and rampant corruption and an erosion of confidence in the judiciary eats away at public morale.

So why use presidential power to release a potential rival at this time?

Fonseka claims the president had no choice because there was overwhelming demand for his release from his supporters, including religious and business leaders.

There are unconfirmed reports that Rajapakse had been pressured by the United States to release the general, which had listed him as a political prisoner. This has been denied by the government.

The release seems more like a Machiavellian tactic by Rajapakse to bolster his popularity and throw a cat among the pigeons of the opposition.

Although he was a war hero and hailed as such during the past presidential election, Fonseka was paradoxically supported by two major political parties opposed to military action.

They are the main opposition United National Party and the Tamil National Alliance which dominates the northern and eastern regions which are predominantly Tamil.

The UNP is split three ways, with its leader Ranil Wickremasinghe hanging on to power despite being drubbed by the governing party in successive elections. The TNA and the other opposition parties are too small to challenge Rajapakse.

So it would seem that Fonseka is a figure that the opposition could coalesce around. But the conditions of his release are that he cannot contest public office, although he can vote and support other candidates.

In the euphoria of seeing the cheering crowds around him Fonseka said being unable to contest did not matter.

He told the Colombo Daily Mirror that he did not need to be in office to make a difference. “If you look at people like Mahatma Gandhi in India, he created a huge impact on the politics of the country.”

It seems an odd comparison. Fonseka was a fierce, hard-driving army chief with a reputation as an autocrat. As an army commander he made statements that often upset minorities in the country.

If the UNP were to back Fonseka and help build a broad, multi-ethnic opposition front to challenge the Rajapakse juggernaut, with the former general as its leader, Wickremasinghe would have to take a backseat. Or there could be in-fighting among these opposition parties to claim Fonseka. This would certainly strengthen Rajapakse in time for parliamentary general elections rumoured to be held next year.

Many Sri Lankans are tired of the country’s corrupt and thoroughly rotten political culture, where those in power act with mind-numbing impunity.

Fonseka’s declaration promising to bring an end to impunity and corruption has struck a chord amongst many.

Right now, Sri Lanka does not need another war hero. It needs men and women who can manage the economy, honestly make an effort towards reconciliation between the majority Sinhala and the minorities and have a clear vision to restore shattered democratic institutions, restore freedom of expression and bring back the judiciary and law enforcement authorities to their former standards. Rajapakse’s team is failing in those areas.

The need for change is strong and apparent among Sri Lankans. Could Fonseka be the catalyst that brings together a visionary team that would bring about that change?

Courtesy New Straits Times

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Latest comments

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    The West and India may try Chandrika – UNP- Gen. Fonseka – TNA – Muslim Congress (?) new alliance!! We have to wait for a few months to see the line of action!!

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      What new alliance?
      It’s the OLD GRAND alliance which had been created at the last presidential election .. If you forgotten already, old die hard leftists (like Bahu, JVP) and all west serving INGOs were also in there … It was the GREAT ALLIANCE OF HISTORY OF SRI LANKA. Problem was that it ended up in utter failure … Not only that, they are at each other throats at the moment … But, what you say is correct … They, haters of Sri Lanka, would never give up and they would try to make any coalition, i mean even joining Alquida and USA, if they could achieve their aim (regime change in SL).
      People of SL know all these grand schems and that is the main reason the government is still popular … There is a major draw back regarding those external interference by SL haters. That is that genuine people who do not like excesses of the government can not protest those excesses openly and hard thinking it would help those haters ….. Somehow, these genuine people should find a way to do it without giving any chance to Srilankan haters if SL to move forward fast.

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        Bruno Umbato:
        The rubbish you spout usually comes out of the south end of a northbound bovine!

        Are you serious when you suggest that all anti-Fascists in this country are paid lackeys of “the west” or whatever and, in the same breath suggest that those who are against the plunder of this country by the Rajapaksas should chart their own course.

        It’s only idiots like you who would even dare to try to separate these categories. In case you didn’t notice, THEY ARE ONE AND THE SAME your idiotic outpourings notwithstanding.

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      OMG. Plz don’t anybody go in alliance with Chandrika. She is a menace, and its much better if she stays retired as she is.

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    Arjuna’s writing style is mature, elegant and easy to read. The quality is consistent with the more reputable and balanced journals in Asia.

    Arjuna says Sri Lanka does not need another war hero. I agree. However, Sri Lankans like the feel of a strong representative as their ‘leader’. That is how its current president rode to power in successive elections.

    Whether Sri Lanka’s leaders have adequately satisfied the people’s hunger for much of the post-colonial period now seems a moot question. Perhaps leadership aspirants should look at this issue foremost, if they are to carry a free conscience to their grave.

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      Lasantha Pethiyagoda:
      You have certainly raised an issue that many of us with two brains to rub together have considered: have the Sri Lankan masses participated in the democratic advances since 1948 and, if so, have they been aware of the fact? (I don’t know whether “moot question” is an accurate term in the context in which you have used it)

      The behaviour of the larger part of the Sri Lankan population seems to suggest that they have not really grasped what is available to Citizen Perera in a democratic system and still subscribe to a monarchical mediaeval belief system. How else would one explain the acceptance if not support of “strong men,” dictators, the destruction of the rule of law etc.?

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    “..Right now, Sri Lanka does not need another war hero. It needs men and women who can manage the economy, honestly make an effort towards reconciliation between the majority Sinhala and the minorities and have a clear vision to restore shattered democratic institutions, restore freedom of expression and bring back the judiciary and law enforcement authorities to their former standards. Rajapakse’s team is failing in those areas..”

    And for it to happen people need a democratic government where contributions of majority would reflect and manifest in the governance. By whichever way it is analysed it is only the UNP lead by RW that is capable and going to form such a government. SF can be a catalyst but he cannot form a government simply because he does not have a foundation to build upon. Until retirement he was an army professional well conversant about battle filed and war mongering without whose contribution victory over LTTE would not have been possible. He can be a popular figure but he cannot be the seasoned politician in RW. Politics and warfare are two entirely different fields and SF does not enjoy the broad base and support RW enjoys.

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    I also agree, it’s a decent article but not without it’s falacy.
    For example, the article says “Fonseka’s declaration promising to bring an end to impunity and corruption has struck a chord amongst many”, which makes no sense. During the past three years, he has been severely exposed, there are many unanswered questions. He is not as popular as he used to be. Secondly, who doesn’t promise the moon when they are not in power? Fonseka promised pay hikes, moon, sun and far away galaxies during his election campaign. Many know he was either not genuine or being deceived. His words now lack credibility. Those who are genuinely concerned about issues, keep away from politics or keep quiet in politics. Napoleon Bonaparte said, the best way to keep one’s word is not to give it.Fonseka should learn.

    UNP members know, there is no room for “leaders from above”. They have to find people they groom to lead the party, which means an alliance with Fonseka is dead before it is born, because Fonseka always wants to be the leader wherever he goes. All the signs are that Fonseka’s time is up. The best is either he gets the membership of a major party and work with them or retires altogether, only a handful will regret.

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    Releasing SF can be attributed to a mixture of factors. SF had completed his term of sentence and due to the appeal he made he had to be released. There was growing local and international pressure. His incarceration caused SLFP vote base to dwindle in protest and elections around the corner keeping SF in detention would act as a cause for vote depletion. At the same time MR wanted to show something to US when GL met Hilary and also he hoped to earn plus marks through this act as a bonus point. But his game plan was to fulfill his hitherto failed mission of permanently disintegrating the UNP! He first tried this by defecting corruptible MPs- I think 60 odd now, including the mass pole-vaulting lead by Karu Jayssuriya, then tried by fielding KJ for the leadership of UNP all of which have lamentably failed though successful in weakening the party. The root UNP RW is still unscathed and inching forward! This was his last ditched attempt to nail RW! He hoped that SF would join with Sajith and all the defectors to form a new alliance/party. But SF was not the fool he hoped. SF too is now saying the same thing RW is saying: implement LLRC recommendations! MR’s all crooked plans and dreams have got shattered now! He is now a fugitive from the problems he created which is why he is now running country after country to even deceive his bad horoscope! The days of this regime are now numbered and there would be lot of inquiries regarding the colossal amount of crimes, robberies, thefts, plundering, malpractices, corruption and all the rest of the crimes committed by this regime!

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    In all this political scenario past & present,one man has been consistant re the economy,international relations,fonseka and resolving our issues with our tamil brothers….surprise! It’s none other than Wickremasinghe.
    And now,I see him building an important political alliance with TNA.
    People in cities are fed up with raja and countryside has seen a change with villagers questioning & complaining re present govt (they don’t buy the entire patriotic story)
    Wickremasinghe should show how different a UNP govt would be by immediatly taking serious action against nose biter (let him cross over)UNP will look good.

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      Ranil has been consistent about Fonseka? Far from the truth..Ask Fonseka.

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    Compared to so many articles here which are thinly disguised Pro LTTE propaganda, this one seems rather balanced. It is so hard to find neutral, unbiased, reporting on SL as the spin doctoring is out of control.

    This lionizing of Fonseka like he was a Macarthur, Patton or Grant is not supported by the facts.

    The single most important person in the defeat of the terrorists was not Fonseka or Gota or MR; rather, it was a terrorist himself, to wit, Colonel Karuna. Without the LTTE schism that saw internecine warfare between VP’s Northern Group and Karuna’s Eastern Group, the war would not have been won by the SLA. The only other way for GOSL to win would have been interdicting the money and arms from the terrorist diaspora in Toronto and elsewhere in the West.

    RupertV seems among the most objective and articulate observers to post here and I concur in his sentiments.

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    Rubert Vanderkoon, American Lanka Lover,

    What the hell do you know about balance reporting or waging war? You are all slipper soup suckers of MR! You live by the left-overs of Rajapakshas! You are paid to write rubbish by MR! LTTE was defeated by LTTE itself! What a fucking joke it is! You are an excellent fit to MR because everything he does resembles your caliber of wisdom!

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      Ajantha is correct.

      This article is not balanced at all. This is wishful thinking that Ranil will pack his bags and retire from politics when Rajapakse releases Fonseka – The Co-Butcher of Mulliwaikal- is released from Welikade.

      It is true that Fonseka has a good deal of followers, who consider him the war hero and not the Rajapakses. But there was no crowds going ecstatic!

      Fonseka does not enjoy the support of the minorities and therefore will not be able to defeat any one of the Rajapakses in 4 years time, if he is even allowed to contest. Fonseka should be given his full political rights and his place in Parliament, without any delay. or else, Tiran Alles the commis kakka should give his nominated MP position to Fonseka, when his political rights are fully restored.

      If Fonseka, undermines the opposition the UNP, which the Rajapakses hopes and prays, that would be a perfect solution for the Rajapakses for another 10 year rule and more.

      The same problems that the Rajapakses face internationally, Fonseka too faces. Additionally, since he was a US permanent resident when the alleged war crimes occurred, his legal problems in the USA does not get erased or white washed.

      So the Fonseka supporters better stop hallucinating and come to reality and down to earth. Fonseka is not the President in waiting. lol.

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    Donald J Gnanakone, Don’t write lies! And you will have to jump to the sea and commit suicide at the nearest beach because you are still alive due to the blood shed from the body of “The Co-Butcher of Mulliwaikal”. Traitors like you must be shod dead on the butt and left to dogs to eat! You are not worth being called human due to your perverted understanding of the truths on the ground! It is the master planning of SF that ended the LTTE terror. Rajapakshas were mere spectators!

    How can you say SF does not have minority support? Whom did minority supported during presidential election and how many minority votes your rogue king obtain? If SF is so impotent why the fucking hell did MR not grant him full freedom? That SF is not politically so far ahead as RW is a different matter. But his role and sacrifice to the country must be acknowledged even though Rajapakshas do not have such decency!

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    @Silva. You are partially right and you confirm what I have written which is the truth.

    Rajapakses as you say were mere spectators issuing orders, especially when Fonseka was away for 10 days in May 2009 in China.
    Of course they ordered the shooting of the “White Flag” surrenderers, but Fonseka was the head of the army and all the soldiers/officers. He knew as soon at it happened, but now waffling.

    Well the rest of the Tamil civilians who were butchered whether it is 40,000 or 100,000, Fonseka has to accept responsibility. The dogs did not eat the flesh and bones of the corpses but were all incinerated using Chinese incinerators. That is why there are no bones left.

    As for the minority voters, you are correct that they voted for him in the last Presidential elections, and that was an Anti-Rajapakse and pro UNP vote. I supported Fonseka’s presidential ambitions, rather reluctantly. But after all what had transpired in the Fonseka election campaign and the million dollars of unspent money, there is a lot to be said that has been unsaid.

    But for Fonseka and his supporters to imagine that the same minority support is still there for Fonseka, is an absolute misconception now and for the future. For the Tamils it is the War Crimes and crimes against humanity issue, and consider Rajapakses equally guilty as Fonseka. So they will want a President who is not accused of war crimes. Period.

    Although, Fonseka is now well educated as he claims after reading some books including one on Hitler, from what he has said in many interviews recently, clearly demonstrates who he is, and will not receive the support of the minorities if he contest the Presidential elections. I agree he should be given all his civic rights.

    Anyway, UNP will put forward it’s candidate in 4 years time, and it is up to Fonseka to decide whether he wants to play the spoiler role in future elections. It might be a good idea for him to go and visit the UNP leader and the leadership and discuss his own political future and role.

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      But white flag surrendees were the terrorist bigwigs. White flags were mere targets that helped forces not to waste bullets. Obama, Clinton, Biden and everybody else watched and enjoyed when Bin Laden was perished by the US forces. That’s how terrorism ends and there is no need to cry foul at the noble act of getting rid of terrorism.

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    Mr. Donald J Gnanakone,

    “…Rajapakses as you say were mere spectators issuing orders, especially when Fonseka was away for 10 days in May 2009 in China.
    Of course they ordered the shooting of the “White Flag” surrenderers, but Fonseka was the head of the army and all the soldiers/officers. He knew as soon at it happened, but now waffling.

    Well the rest of the Tamil civilians who were butchered whether it is 40,000 or 100,000, Fonseka has to accept responsibility. The dogs did not eat the flesh and bones of the corpses but were all incinerated using Chinese incinerators. That is why there are no bones left…”

    Can you do a favour to the country and be a hero? Even the mastermind responsible for the demise of LTTE is now “waffling” as you say! Can you not “waffle” and site the above two paragraphs in front of UNHRC? Or at least to a “jungle paper” in Sri Lanka?

    Let me ask you a question. For several days now the President is not in the country, the Prime Minister is not in the country and even the opposition leader is not in the country. So what? Is the government now able to function or survive? Have all the officials and workers in the government and elsewhere gone nuts in the absence of President and doing their own business and avoiding and escaped from their duties? No!

    So it is the same with Fonseka’s China tour. He had so precisely planned and deployed the war-plan that the war was finished even when he was not in the country! Don’t you get his man? This is what makes SF the unique and unparallelled war hero!

    I agree with you that there are war crime allegations and it is the responsibility of the government to investigate it which even SF himself has said it recently.

    If SF is fielded from the common opposition ably supported by UNP and Ranil minority vote can be garnered easily-don’t worry about that!

    Now that he has missed the Presidency under questionable circumstances, he can be a catalyst to garner votes for the common opposition and in a future government lead by Ranil he would play a greater role in disciplinary works of the society. I don’t think he is mature enough or still have the exposure experience and temperament to be the head of the country.

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