The Fonseka magic and logic

So, Gen. (retd) Sarath Fonseka has finally shown his hand. He wants to contest the next presidential election as the UNF-JVP combine's candidate. That he would do so was a foregone conclusion and his announcement, therefore, lacked an element of surprise. However, the press conference he gave yesterday was of some interest as the country saw the retired general struggling to metamorphose into a politician.

Fonseka may have realised that politics was a different ball game altogether as, in fielding questions by the media on the economy, minorities and democracy, he happened to quip that even a politician with 30 of years of experience would find it difficult to answer them. His remark prompted a journalist to ask how he could consider himself fit to run for presidency while admitting that he was inexperienced as a politician. Fonseka said he was not the only brain in the Opposition alliance and he would work with others in addressing those issues.

The UNP and the JVP have desisted from fielding their own presidential candidates as they are convinced their leaders are lost causes unable to rival their bete noire, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom they are all out to hound out of office. A sine qua non for the success of their common candidate project is their ability to promote Fonseka as a brand new 'Superman' capable of outdoing Rajapaksa in every respect on his own without being burdened with the Opposition's liabilities, for which the JVP and the UNP have been routed at so many elections consecutively. But, he has now admitted that in the event of his victory, he will be heavily dependent on the same old political rejects who are wary of facing the presidential contest! Whether Fonseka will be able to impress the electorate and secure its support for becoming President as a front for a bunch of defeatist politicians notorious for waste, corruption, abuse of power and political violence, is the question. It is doubtful whether he has read the COPE reports prepared under Wijedasa Rajapaskha’s chairmanship, naming mega corrupt deals involving some of the Opposition bigwigs who have thrown in their lot with him.

Fonseka did himself no good when he declared yesterday in answer to a question about funds for his campaign that he was willing to be helped by even Prabhakaran's mother and father in his endeavour. What guarantee is there that if he managed to secure the support of one and all indiscriminately to win the presidency, he would be able to remain independent without being swayed by the evil influence of vested interests? He demonstrated his readiness to compromise principles just like Ranil, Mahinda et al for expedience, when he said he believed there were neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies in politics! Those who may have, fed up with the existing bunch of political leaders and desirous of a change, pinned their hopes on Fonseka, must be disillusioned!

Fonseka has taken upon himself the noble task of cleansing politics and ridding the country of waste and corruption. Yesterday, he said for that purpose President Rajapaksa and his kitchen cabinet including his political family would have to be ousted. In fact, he has made that goal his raison d'être in politics. But, curiously, when asked why he had 'retired hurt', Fonseka gave a litany of grievances, the main being that the expensive post of Chief of Defence Staff had lacked operational responsibilities and administrative authority. The implication was that he would have been happy and content without retiring, if those powers had been vested in that post, regardless of President Rajapaksa's ‘family bandyism’, ‘nepotism’, corruption, waste, political violence etc., which he has undertaken to battle! If he had decided to bear with the government for the sake of the war effort, he should have resigned immediately after victory on May 19 and taken on President Rajapaksa at that time. Why did he wait six months to criticise the President and his government? That he accepted the plum CDS post after victory and enjoyed perks of office until he found himself 'powerless' and sidelined by the powers that be, has immensely eroded his credibility. Interestingly, at yesterday's press conference, Fonseka said if the war hadn't been over, he would still have been the army commander! He sounds just like a political crossover inveighing against his or her former boss in a bid to settle personal scores.

Fonseka has been contradicting himself since his retirement. Immediately after the war was over, in an interview with a government TV channel, he claimed that the army should get the credit for about 95 per cent of victory. Yesterday, he said the credit for victory should go to all the armed forces, the police, the Civil Defence Force, the people, the media and politicians. How much of the war victory does he wish to share with others after taking his share? Only five per cent? If he genuinely believes everybody should get his or her fair share of the credit for defeating the LTTE, how can he seek to justify his attempt to go places in politics on the successful war, while other military commanders who, too, made a huge contribution to defeating terrorism are keeping away from politics?

Moreover, when Gen. Fonseka became the commander of the army, which killed Prabhakaran and decapitated the LTTE, he was past his retirement age and on a service extension. The question is whether he would have been able to achieve that feat, if he had not been a beneficiary of the patronage of President Rajapaksa, whom he has taken on today.

Asked about the killing of The Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickremetunga, Fonseka said yesterday that he had not personally killed or attacked any journalist and therefore any attempt to involve him in that crime would be tantamount to an effort to implicate the army, which he described as a professional and disciplined force. But, recently, he said something different, when the government offered him a security contingent consisting of soldiers and officers. He wanted to handpick his guards claiming that the personnel the government wanted to give him could even be an assassination squad! Ironically, he made this accusation in an interview with The Sunday Leader on Nov. 22. He said: "They initially reduced my security to 25. I protested. They then increased it to 60 infantrymen. Again I protested and now they have assigned me a mere 12 commandos –– not men that I handpicked. They are all new men. They could be an assassination squad –– maybe they are trying to assassinate me."

If the army is professional and disciplined and not capable of carrying out illegal activities such as assassinations at anyone's behest as Fonseka claimed at yesterday's press conference, why should he fear threats to his life from a group of army commandos assigned by the government to protect him? Hasn't he as the former army commander insulted the army in a bigger way?

When Associate Editor of The Nation Keith Noyahr was abducted and tortured on May 22, 2008 before being released the following day, the blame for that crime was placed at the doorstep of the army. The then Editor of The Nation Lalith Alahakoon minced no words when he told President Rajapaksa at a meeting with newspaper editors at Temple Trees a few days after the abduction, as we reported on May 28, 2008, that there were some Military Intelligence vehicles sighted near The Nation office spying on journalists. Noyahr had, in his column written under a pseudonym, Senpathi, been critical of Gen. Fonseka, who was the commander of the army at that time. So much for the military and attacks on the media!

Yesterday, Fonseka said something that must have stunned the JVP. Speaking on constitutional matters and devolution, he said that a political solution might even have to go beyond the Thirteenth Amendment! This particular constitutional amendment, as is well known, is anathema to the JVP. Fonseka was careful to avoid any reference to a caretaker Cabinet with the UNP Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister, (the formation of which was one of the conditions the UNP put forth for endorsing Fonseka's candidacy according to an interview Wickremesinghe gave the Tamil newspaper, Sudaroli recently), so as to avoid embarrassment to the JVP, but it will be interesting to know the JVP's position on its common presidential candidate's stand on the 13th Amendment. Rathu Sahodarayas' new hero, too, has feet of devolution clay, eh?

Fonseka may have appeared to handle the press with finesse yesterday but it is doubtful whether the discerning were convinced by his glib answers and pronouncements. He only spoke like a crafty politician.



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