(October 18, Colombo - Lanka Polity) Former Sri Lanka Army Commander and present Chief of Defense Staff General Sarath Fonseka has hit the headlines due to the rumors regarding he becoming a contender for the country's all powerful executive presidency at the upcoming presidential poll.
The President Mahinda Rajapakse is considering an early presidential poll after the completion of four years in his first tenure with a hope of adding eight more years for his career in a bid to make his hay during the sunny weather of post-war Sri Lanka. The President who expected an easy victory seems bemused with the rumors regarding his foremost general becoming his rival at the Presidential. The prominent state-owned Sinhala language newspapers ran the same story on Saturday and Sunday that said the stories about a conflict between the government and the former Army Commander were false. However, all the state media reports that declined the conflict lacked one basic proof, i.e. a statement from the relevant commander.
Fonseka who is an arch Sinhala nationalist was against the 2002 ceasefire agreement and led the Army to totally annihilate the Tamil rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) that fought for three decades for the right of self-determination of Ealam Tamils. The Army eliminated the entire leadership of the LTTE in the battlefield and some media reported that the troops gunned down LTTE political leaders B. Nadesan and S.Puleethevan that came with white flags to surrender to Army.
Fonseka made many controversial statements to media as he was holding the post of the Army Commander of the multi-ethnic nation. He said to Canadian National Post on September 23, 2008, “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people...We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country...We are also a strong nation ... They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue thing.”
Sri Lanka has around 25% Tamil speaking population that is comprised of Tamils and Muslims and the Tamils have fought for almost a century for powers of ruling the Tamil dominated areas. The Sinhala majority that holds the state powers does not like to give in due to fear of losing their status as a lonely community of just below 200,000 that speak a language called Sinhala. Although they won the war against Tamils, they have so far failed to achieve peace with the minority communities. A power sharing mechanism that is vehemently opposed by minority communities is a pre-requisite for a sustainable peace.
General Sarath Fonseka was made to retire before schedule and he was appointed as the Chief of Defense Staff, a position under the control of Defense Secretary, a post held by the President’s brother Gotabhaya Rajapakse. He was later appointed as the secretary of the Ministry of Sports and Recreation. The general has neither assumed nor declined the post so far even after a week for the appointment.
Some media reports pointed out that the appointment was aimed at demeaning the former Army Commander and his role in the war against LTTE. Media reports that say the state media has been directed by authorities not to give publicity to the former Army Commander can be observed correct since he was seen in state media very rarely now. Government’s media machine gives less priority to the news related to armed forces now.
By weekend police Criminal Investigation Department interrogated the editor of Sinhala tabloid ‘Lanka’ about a lead story it ran this week about the conflict between the former army Commander and the government. Marist nationalist People’s Liberation Front (JVP) that owns the newspaper is promoting General Fonseka’s candidacy for the next Presidential. Reports indicate that a wide section of the major opposition United National Party (UNP) is also supporting the move.
However, the man in the limelight has still made no comment regarding these rumors.