UNP still undecided on fielding Gen. Fonseka as COP
• Why did Gen.
Fonseka quit?
• Why Opposition wants Fonseka as COC • What happens if Fonseka gets Chief Executive post? • Parliamentary election first after SLFP Convention?
Chief of Defence Staff former Army Commander General Fonseka who made page one headlines in newspapers almost daily during the decisive war on LTTE terrorism, has again become the leading news maker just six months after the ending of the war. This is due to him being strongly tipped as most likely Common Opposition Presidential (COP) candidate.

General Fonseka, at the outset refrained from reacting to initial unconfirmed reports that he was to be fielded by the joint opposition as their Presidential candidate. However, he later began making remarks that people construed as hints, that there was a base for the widespread speculation. Meanwhile, General Fonseka had sent a letter about 1.30 pm on Thursday to President Mahinda Rajapaksa seeking retirement from service with effect from December 1. It transpired later that the President had readily granted him permission for his retirement. According to informed sources, the Chief of Defence Staff had given 17 reasons in his three-page letter for his decision to seek retirement.

President Rajapaksa had told a group of Ministers last Tuesday that if he received a letter of resignation from General Fonseka he would accept it, and immediately inform him of its acceptance. When the President said so, he was in a way, reacting to certain media reports which had said that the President could refuse to accept General Fonseka’s resignation or his request for retirement, under the provisions of the Chief of Defence Staff Act recently passed by Parliament. In fact, some UNF leaders had said that they would seek legal redress and stage protests across the country if the President refused to allow General Fonseka to retire.

General Sarath Fonseka participated in the state reception accorded to Myanmar’s military Head of State Senior General Than Shwe held at the Katunayake International Airport on Thursday morning. He had sent the letter seeking to quit service only later in the day. By the time the General was received at Temple Trees, President Rajapaksa had gone to Kandy along with the Myanmar’s Head of State. President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga told media later that the President would, on his return to Colombo send a reply to General Fonseka.

General Fonseka attended the meeting of the National Security Council on Wednesday. The President had lunch with General Fonseka after the meeting. The duo had a discussion at a personal level which lasted for over one hour, Temple Trees sources said.

Why General Fonseka decided to quit
According to informed sources, General Fonseka had told the President during the tête-à-tête, about his decision to quit the service. It has transpired that one of the main reasons for the General’s decision to seek retirement, was his removal from the post of Army Commander without consulting him. He had wanted to continue in his position as the Army Commander until the conclusion of the Army’s 60th anniversary celebrations. Government had disregarded his wish. Government had not heeded his request to appoint as his successor, Major General G. A. Chandrasiri who functioned as the Jaffna Commander either. He was not happy with the appointment of Major General Jagath Jayasuriya as the Army Commander either. Meanwhile, government had taken action to have an Act providing for new powers to be vested in the Chief of Defence Staff passed in Parliament.

Following the passage of the Act last July, General Fonseka was appointed as the Chief of Defence Staff. However, the new powers were not formally vested in him through a gazette notification. General Fonseka had felt he had been reduced to a mere figurehead. Meanwhile, the new Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya had made a series of changes at the Army headquarters which were not to the liking of General Fonseka. Major General Jagath Jayasuriya had replaced a large number of personnel who served under General Fonseka at the Army headquarters, with those loyal to him.

General Fonseka’s plans go awry
Soon after the conclusion of the war, General Fonseka had confided his future plans in several media men loyal to him. His plans, among other things, envisaged further strengthening the Army with 100,000 new recruits, and opening up settlements for troops in 10 key areas in the North. According to his plans, families of Army personnel were to be settled in new townships to come up in the wake of infrastructure development to provide all basic facilities necessary for community life.

Effective as were his plans for preventing terrorism raising its ugly head again, they could have exposed the Sri Lankan government to much criticism from the international community. Therefore, President Rajapaksa could not give his nod to these plans. This was another reason for General Foneeka’s disenchantment. Besides, opening up proposed Army cantonments and recruiting such a large number of new soldiers, would cost a massive expenditure, which government could ill-afford. Such an exercise could become too much of a burden on a people who had undergone much suffering due to a protracted war. Besides, the move to recruit another one lakh of soldiers when the war was over, would only be inviting people’s displeasure.

Political rivals exploit the situation
Certain opposition elements including Mangala Samaraweera who were carefully watching the situation, had decided that time was opportune for them to start fishing in troubled waters. They mounted a media blitz to create a rift between General Fonseka and the government. Certain pro-UNP websites began running fabricated stories. Both government and General Fonseka fell victim to these machinations. Government suspected that General Fonseka was planning a coup and the latter thought he was being cold-shouldered by the government.

`Kevattayas’ go into action
Meanwhile, self-appointed- media advisors of the government - typical `Kewattayas,’ clamped a taboo on covering General Fonseka’s public functions and public speeches by state media. The General was accorded a parade of honour and a reception by the Army as part of the Army’s 60th anniversary celebrations. He made a speech at this function. However, all state media blacked out these events. Under these circumstances, when he was offered the post of Secretary to the Ministry of Sports, he considered it an affront to him.

Amidst these developments, opposition elements including Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera, Rauff Hakeem and Mano Ganesan who exploited the rift between government and the Chief of Defence Staff formed an opposition alliance. Among the constituents of the alliance are several political parties now reduced to mere sign- boards. They appear to have convinced General Fonseka that the hastily got up alliance is strong enough to challenge the government.

Why alliance leaders are wooing the General
The UNP, highly demoralised following defeat at 19 elections in a row, had second thoughts about fielding its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as its Presidential candidate. Meanwhile, a group led by Mangala Samaraweera was planning to field General Fonseka instead of Ranil to defeat President Rajapaksa.
A long standing aspirant to Executive Presidency, Ranil Wickremesinghe did not cotton on to this idea at the outset. However, under pressure from various groups, Ranil expressed his consent subject to several conditions. According to a statement Ranil had made to the `Sudar-Oli’ newspaper, some of the conditions are as follows:
• General Fonseka as the Common Opposition Presidential candidate, should enter into an agreement with the United National Front
• In the event of his being elected, he should remove the immunity against prosecution enjoyed by the President within 30 days
• He should introduce a new Constitution for the abolition of the Executive Presidency within 6 months
• Prior to introducing a new Constitution, Parliament should be dissolved making way for appointing a caretaker government
• He ( Ranil Wickremesinghe) should be appointed the Prime Minister of the caretaker government
• An office of an Executive Prime Minister should be created under the new Constitution and he (Ranil Wickremesinghe) should be appointed the Executive Prime Minister
• JVP and the TNA too should be offered Ministerial portfolios
What is the guarantee that General Fonseka would meet these conditions in the event of his being elected Executive President?

JVP’s past attempts at abolishing Executive Presidency
The JVP entered into a similar agreement with Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1994. However, Chandrika Kumaratunga continued in the office of Executive President till 2005 and never took any initiative in the interim to abolish this office. However, the JVP thought it fit to team up with Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1999 to form the so called ,`Parivasa’ government’ and accept 4 Ministerial portfolios in that regime.
The JVP supported President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2005 Presidential election with the objective of getting the Executive Presidency scrapped. However, the much maligned office could not be abolished as the government could not get a two thirds majority in Parliament. Now President Rajapaksa says that he would abolish the office after winning the next Presidential election, and mustering two thirds of seats in Parliament at the General elections to follow.

If Gen. Fonseka refuses to give up Executive Presidency?
Suppose General Fonseka continued in office regardless after being elected, following in the footsteps of Chandrika and Mahinda, what action could the United National Front take against him? Being a former Army Commander, General Fonseka should be still commanding the loyalty of a large number of personnel in the Army. Could one rule out the possibility that he would carry out a military regime fully exploiting both his military clout and the executive powers?

Pakistan example
General Pervez Musharaff who seized power by a military coup made it a point to implement a series of people-friendly measures soon after taking office. He granted a moratorium to defaulting businessmen who had obtained massive loans from banks. However, he later ruled the country with an iron hand. He even went to the extreme of sacking Supreme Court judges who he thought, were an obstacle to his military rule.
What would be the fate of democracy in this country, if an Army officer who is a stranger to the administration, governance and aspirations of the people despite being well versed in military strategies, becomes the all powerful Executive President?

After sending a letter to President Rajapaksa seeking permission to retire from service, General Fonseka, clad in white accompanied by wife Anoma, visited Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya and participated in religious observances. Ordinary people in the area were not aware of the General’s visit. However, media personnel from the leading media institutions in the country were present at the temple in full strength to cover the event. Following the religious observances, media personnel began bombarding him with questions.
Fielding a question by a journalist, General Fonseka said:”I have worked for the people so far. I shall continue to work for them.”

“Didn’t you announce earlier that you would never take to politics?” asked another journalist. “Yes. I did. But at that time, I had not decided to retire from military service either.” He added: “Now that I have decided to retire, I shall take a decision on my plans for the future once I have retired. As a citizen of the country, I too am entitled to rights the fellow-citizens are enjoying.”

“Is there any truth in reports appearing in the Press that you are set to contest the upcoming Presidential poll?”
General Fonseka replied:” I am still wearing the uniform. I can talk on a topic like that only after shedding my uniform.” He promised to announce his plans for the future after the end of this month.

Ranil pays sudden visit to India
Meanwhile, Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe made a visit to New Delhi. According to reports reaching here, Wickremesinghe had held talks with a number of government political leaders and top rung diplomats there during his visit. According to UNP sources, Wickremesinghe had apprised the Indian political leaders of the move to field former Army Commander as the Common Opposition Candidate at the upcoming Presidential election. A political power in Asia, India, being our closest neighbour is closely monitoring the political developments in this country. Due to geo-political factors, India is sensitive to political developments taking place in any of its neighbours, be it Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. One of the biggest democracies in the world India would naturally want Sri Lanka to continue as a vibrant democracy. Therefore, according to diplomatic sources, New Delhi had asked Ranil Wickremesinghe to carefully consider possible consequences of fielding a military officer as a Presidential candidate, which could prove prejudicial to the survival of the country’s democracy.

India’s Deputy National Defence Advisor Alok Prasad and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, thanks to their being former High Commissioners here, are quite familiar with politics in this country. They have briefed the Indian authorities on the situation here. It is no wonder, New Delhi knowing well that General Fonseka is closer to Pakistan than to India, would not want him to be the Executive President of this country.

Why the opposition wanted Gen. Fonseka
At the time when General Fonseka’s name was first proposed as an Opposition Presidential candidate, the Ranil loyalists of the UNP like Malik Samarawickrama, Sagala Ratnayake came up with the idea that Ranil Wickremesinghe would stand a good chance of winning the Presidential election, if the JVP fielded General Fonseka as a third candidate. Their logic was that in a three-cornered contest, the Sinhala Buddhist vote would get split between General Fonseka and Mahinda Rajapaksa, making way for Ranil to romp home on the strength of the 30 percent stable UNP vote, reinforced by the Tamil and Muslim vote. “The UNP vote base would remain intact when General Fonseka takes away a large slice of the Sinhala Buddhist vote to Mahinda’s advantage,” they had argued.

Another proposal was that both Ranil Wickremesinghe and General Fonseka should be in the running, and midway through the campaign, one of them should withdraw in support of the other’s candidature, depending on their respective popularity ratings. Although, the UNF has decided to field General Fonseka as the Presidential candidate, they have not abandoned the second proposal either.

Sulking, disappointed, hopeful
According to UNP sources, UNP National organiser is an unhappy person these days. He first opposed the formation of the UNP-led opposition combine, now known as the United National Front. Now the party has added insult to his injury by picking an outsider as the Common Opposition Candidate, when he himself aspired to be the party’s nominee if the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe stepped down. S.B was conspicuous by his absence at the UNF launching ceremony held at the Parliamentary complex.

S.B. Dissanayake gave vent to his grievance when SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem and PDF leader Mano Ganesan called on him last week. ”I sought to be the party’s Presidential candidate at a time when none in the party had thought of entering the fray. There is a large collective demand for my being the candidate from within the party. I am confident of winning if I am fielded as the party candidate,” S.B. had told the two visitors. He had also on this occasion complained that the party had yet to delegate any powers to him as the party’s National Organiser. Hakeem and Ganesan had assured S.B. that they would take up this matter with the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya.

SLFP National Convention at Khettarama stadium today
The 19th National Convention of the SLFP will be held at the Khettarama stadium this afternoon. President Mahinda Rajapaksa will preside. About 100,000 party members are expected to attend the Convention, SLFP General Secretary Minister Maitripala Sirisena said.

President Rajapaksa had announced earlier that he was going to announce at this Convention which of the two much looked forward to national polls, Presidential and Parliamentary General, would come first. Today’s event has assumed unprecedented significance due to the President’s announcement, and it would be the centre of attention of the people, political parties and even the world media today.

The SLFP ministers and a large number of party organisers have requested President Rajapaksa to hold the General Parliamentary elections first. They had pointed out that the party could register a landslide at a Parliamentary election paving the way for a cake walk at a Presidential election. Meanwhile, sources close to the government say now that General Fonseka is very likely to come forward as the Common Opposition Presidential candidate, a General Parliamentary election might come first.
However, political sources say that the chances are President Rajapaksa may not say which of the two elections would come first at today’s Convention.