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  Politics  


 
President Rajapaksa’s win comes as no surprise
On no occasion did President revile his rival candidates
• General Fonseka lost respect of people
• Every leader of parties that formed opposition had grudge against President
• Elections Commissioner disproved rigging allegations
The main opposition Presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka, who was in thick of a vigorous propaganda campaign for over six weeks, appeared by the day of the election quite confident of his victory. The support he received from various segments of the society and a number of political parties as well as massive crowds that attended his propaganda rallies infused him with such confidence he looked forward to a successful end to his campaign trail on January 26.

Over-confident Fonseka jumps the gun
Overwhelmed by effervescent optimism, addressing the propaganda rallies in the final phase of his campaign, General Fonseka made it a point to tell the people what he proposed to do immediately after being sworn in as the Executive President. He said in a firm tone that soon after January 27 he would send the corrupt elements to the Welikada and Bogambara prisons and arraign the army officers who had worked against him before military tribunals after stripping them of their military uniforms. He also said that he would retain in his charge the ministerial portfolios of education and health. People could easily see the corrosive malice and vindictiveness reflected in his statements.

The leaders of political parties such as the UNP, JVP, SLMC and the Democratic People’s Front too were equally confident that people would repose their faith in their programme presented under the theme, `Vishvasaneeya Venasak.’

Soon after the conclusion of the Presidential poll on January 26, General Fonseka, along with a large group of supporters, checked in to the Hotel Cinnamon Lake where he had reserved 100 suites. Among the group of his supporters were several serving and retired army officers. Fonseka had had an office too set up at the hotel. Once ensconced in the hotel, they began entertaining visitors and among them were UNF leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Rauff Hakeem, Mano Ganesan and Tiran Alles. The main topic of their discussions was the swearing-in ceremony of General Fonseka as the new President on January 27.

Grand plans go haywire
They decided to consult the secretary to the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Kusumsiri Balapatabendi in regard to traditions and procedures relating to the swearing-in of the President. The person, who functioned as the media secretary to former president Kumaratunga, acted as the go-between in arranging Kusumsiri Balapatabendi to advise General Fonseka on `the would-be big event.’ They also decided to get Balapatabendi to request President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga to prepare the Presidential Secretariat for the upcoming `ceremony.’
Meanwhile, National Intelligence had received reports that General Fonseka had made plans to place President Rajapaksa and his family under house arrest after getting the troops to form a ring around the Temple Trees.
General Fonseka checks in to Cinnamon Lake

The security authorities too had received intelligence that General Fonseka, Ranil, Anura Kumara, Hakeem, Mangala and Mano Ganesan had checked in to Cinnamon Lake with a 400-strong army contingent. One report said that there were some army deserters among the army personnel providing security to General Fonseka. Therefore, a contingent from the Gajaba regiment was dispatched with instructions to surround the hotel from outside as a security measure. Meanwhile, before the dawn of January 27, it became quite clear that President Rajapaksa was heading for a massive victory.

Discussions of a highly disappointed and disillusioned Fonseka and his political associates later focused on the impending defeat that they never dreamt of. The discussions soon turned into a heated debate with the participants hurling charges and counter-changes against each other. General Fonseka, known as a hot-tempered person, had flown into a rage. One TV channel reported that the General, who vented his wrath on Mangala Samaraweera, set upon him after hurling vitriolic abuse on him and a free-for-all ensued.

Following this incident, TV footage showed Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera, Rauff Hakeem, and Mano Ganesan leaving the hotel. Meanwhile, political associates of General Fonseka started dispatching messages to heads of foreign diplomatic missions in Colombo saying that the army had laid siege to the hotel where he and his supporters were staying and making an appeal to them to take measures to rescue them from the impending arrest. International media outfits like the CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera were giving wide publicity to the alleged army siege

Meanwhile, the election office of General Fonseka had informed the local media that he had arranged a meeting with foreign media personnel at the Cinnamon Lake Hotel. The foreign media personnel, who had arrived for the media briefing by the General on January 27 morning, were seen videoing the troops posted on the road outside the hotel. None of the leaders of political parties supporting General Fonseka were present at the time this media briefing was being held. Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who was one of the co-spokesman of the General was present, but the other co-spokesman Mangala Samaraweera was conspicuous by his absence. UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya had come to assist Anura Kumara. The media personnel appeared intrigued by the absence of General Fonseka at the briefing despite his presence at the hotel.
At the media briefing Karu Jayasuriya and Anura Kumara Dissanayake told the journalists that General Fonseka and his supporters were being held under house arrest at the hotel.

However, in a strong rebuttal of this allegation, the army spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara explained that the troops had ringed the hotel following intelligence that that there were some army deserters and serving army officers carrying arms among the security personnel assigned to General Fonseka and troops were there only to arrest the army deserters and recalcitrant army officers and the General was free to leave the hotel at any time he wanted.

The General leaves hotel
General Fonseka had earlier told that he shifted from his residence to the hotel following information he received that there was a plan afoot to arrest him.
Meanwhile, the UNP and JVP supporters of the General, who were confounded by the victory achieved by President Mahinda Rajapaksa garnering a massive 1.8 million majority over the General, began setting afloat rumors to discredit President Rajapaksa. One of those rumors said that Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake was coercesed into signing and announcing a forged list of election results.

Another rumor said that district election result lists had been tampered with while they were being brought to the Elections Secretariat in Colombo. In fact, rumor mongers had meant to provide some consolation to severely disappointed party supporters by showing that the massive victory achieved by President Rajapaksa was nothing but the outcome of an enormous fraud perpetrated on the people.

Elections Commissioner scotches rumours
However, Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake at the formal ceremony held in his office for announcing the final result of the Presidential poll, scotched the rumors which were doing rounds in the country. He explained that five copies of the certified election results list in respect of every counting centre were made out as usual at this election and one copy of this certified list was given to each candidate or his representative present at the counting centre. The fourth copy was put on display at the counting hall for public information and the returning officer had filed on record the fifth copy according to the stipulated procedure. He said that he adopted this procedure so that he would be in a position to successfully meet the kind of allegations that have already been made.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was present at the traditional ceremony held to mark the announcing of the final poll result. Several unsuccessful candidates too had attended. However, the main rival candidate General Fonseka was conspicuous by his absence.

Meanwhile, General Fonseka had told foreign media that the Rajapaksa government had presented a distorted election result and he apprised the foreign governments of this situation through their respective diplomatic missions in Colombo., However, giving a contradictory version later, General Fonseka had told a local private TV channel he was the certain winner, judging by the massive crowds that attended his propaganda rallies and the government had prevented his election victory through recourse to malpractices. He also charged that his entire security had been removed exposing his life to danger and the President and the Defence Secretary should be held responsible if his life was harmed. He also had said that he was staying in the hotel in the absence of any security for him outside the hotel and he was prepared to move out of the hotel if the authorities could give an assurance of his safety.

Buddhist prelate intervenes
Meanwhile, it is learnt that General Fonseka had told a Mahanayake Thera in Kandy, who had been close to him and had even sent a letter on his behalf to President Rajapaksa making certain allegations against the latter, that he had been deprived of his security. The Mahanayake in an immediate response had rung up a government high up and asked him to provide the General with security and assure him (the General) that he was not facing any threat from the government. Later a government high official had told General Fonseka that he was facing no threat whatever from the government and if he was keen on leaving the country, necessary facilities could be soon provided for the purpose. General Fonseka had returned to his residence from the Hotel Cinnamon Lake after receiving this assurance.

The Military Police had arrested several army deserters who had been with General Fonseka at the hotel and meanwhile, a few others had surrendered to the army. Later, speaking to a private TV channel on January 27 night General Fonseka had announced that he was planning to go abroad shortly on a brief visit.
In sum, it is quite clear that the majority of people have not looked on General Fonseka as a credible leader although he came forward to bring about a `vishvasaneeya venasak’ (a credible change).
Why they got together to defeat Mahinda
It would be interesting to ascertain the reasons why General Fonseka, who had played a very vital role in defeating the LTTE, had suffered a defeat in the political arena.

Mangala Samaraweera and the JVP were mainly responsible for sponsoring the candidacy of General Fonseka at the Presidential poll. Motivated by an intense hate towards President Mahinda Rajapaksa, they concentrated on the sole purpose of defeating the President to send him into political wilderness. Ranil Wickremesinghe threw in his lot with them because he knew that he would never be able to come back to power so long as President Rajapaksa remained in politics. President Rajapaksa incurred the hate of the JVP when 11 MPs of their party crossed over to the government. SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem is also nursing a grudge against the President for wooing over to the government some of his MPs causing a split in the party. Mano Ganesan hates the President for defeating the LTTE.

It was Mangala Samaraweera who rallied all these forces against President Rajapaksa. They formed a joint opposition alliance too despite their conflicting political views as they shared the common objective of defeating President Rajapaksa. General Fonseka too had a score to settle with President Rajapaksa for appointing him to the post of Chief of Defence Staff carrying reduced powers, and for rejecting his proposal to set up 10 army cantonments in the North and East. Mangala Samaraweera, being aware of the General’s disenchantment with the President, knew that the latter could be used for attaining his main goal of sending President Rajapaksa home. Meanwhile, the United States, Great Britain, and the countries in the EU were looking on the Rajapaksa government with disfavour for his refusal to dance to their tune. The President incurred the displeasure of these countries when he forthrightly rejected their request to call a ceasefire when the war was raging in the North. Therefore, it is no secret that the foreign forces played a significant role in bringing about the anti-Mahinda Rajapaksa alliance.

They all harboured different ambitions. General Fonseka wanted to be the Executive President of the country. Ranil Wickremesinghe wanted to become the Executive Prime Minister after winning the general election to be held under the presidency of General Fonseka. The JVP wanted to win at least 40 seats contesting under the joint opposition banner. Former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva cherished the hope of becoming the Prime Minister of the caretaker government to be formed after General Fonseka’s victory. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga wanted to replace President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the President of the SLFP. The opposition alliance also received the backing of a few businessmen who were sulking having failed to secure contracts of some ongoing development projects.
This shows diverse elements had chosen to become components of the joint opposition alliance to achieve their separate objectives.

The general squandered away the respect he had earned
General Sarath Fonseka had earned the respect and recognition of the people in this country as the hero who brought the war to a decisive end. Therefore, those who sponsored his candidacy had a great confidence that he would succeed in recording an easy victory at the election. As part of their design to boost the General’s candidacy, they launched a campaign to vilify President Mahinda Rajapaksa. They made use of opposition websites, newspapers, E-mail, and SMS messages and rumor mongers to mount a massive mud-slinging campaign against the President. Promoting ` Sahodara Samagama and nepotism in general, amassing wealth by illegal means and plundering state property were the main charges that formed the main grist to their vilification mill.

Soon after filing the nominations, General Fonseka presented to the people a list of 10 promises. Granting a Rs.10, 000 pay hike to public servants, reducing the prices of essential goods and those of petrol, diesel, kerosene oil and LP gas, granting a monthly dole of Rs.2000 to unemployed youth, paying a monthly allowance of Rs.3000 to unemployed graduates until securing gainful employment, increasing the pension payment of retired public servants were among the attractive promises he presented to the people.

Despite the abolition of the executive presidency being the main plank of his initial election platform, there was no reference to this promise in his ten-point manifesto.

At the outset, General Fonseka said that he would function as a nominal president. Later he changed this stand and said that he found no use of an office that does not have powers. He told a series of propaganda rallies that he proposed to retain in his charge a number of ministries including health and education. There was no reference to his economic policies in his manifesto. The General possibly avoided making any reference to his economic policies, given the diametrically opposed views on the economy held by his two main sponsors- the UNP and the JVP. However, the enlightened business community in the country was well aware of the crisis that the country’s economy would have to face if General Fonseka were elected President.

Puts his foot in his mouth
Used to a long military career, General Fonseka had a difficulty in making common cause with the people and making a rapport with them. He was utterly clueless as to what he should say or should not at public forums. Therefore, Mangala Samaraweera and Anura Kumara Dissanayake made it a point to flank the General on either side and answer questions by media personnel on his behalf. They had even instructed him not to speak for more than 10 minutes at public forums.

Despite these precautionary measures, General Fonseka lost his cool when Upul Ilangage had made certain references to the Hicorp affair at an interview with a TV channel. A furious Fonseka, during a TV interview, later abused Ilangage calling him `Kalavedda, (a polecat) and paahara miniha (despicable man). He also referred to Ilangage as `Oo ‘and `Moo’.making an indecent display of his hate and anger towards him.

People, no doubt, read the character of the man when he said that he would send the corrupt elements to Welikada and Bogambara and strip the army officers who worked against him of their uniforms when he were elected president.

General Fonseka also nursed a hatred towards Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as well. The statement he made to the Sunday Leader that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had ordered the execution of Tigers coming forward to surrender holding white flags aloft too boomeranged on him. The allegation made against General Fonseka that he had signed a pact with TNA leader R. Sampanthan also went against him. Although he denied this allegation, his attempts to vindicate himself failed as TNA MPs such as Thurairatnasingham, Shivajilingam and Pathmini Sithamparanathan had maintained that such a pact had been signed, in their interviews with newspapers.

Election day comedy
All print and electronic media institutions had deployed on the presidential poll day their camera and video crews to take pictures of political leaders and candidates arriving to cast their vote. Photo and video journalists took pictures of President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Medamulana, Ranil Wickremesinghe at a Buddhist temple in Kollupitiya and Somawansa Amarasinghe at Mayurapada Pirivena at Pelawatta. When inquired about the polling station at which General Fonseka was to cast his vote, his media unit said that they could not disclose this information for security reasons.The JVP leaders on inquiry, said that the General had quietly cast his vote without attracting media attention. However, the state electronic media kept on informing the public that General Fonseka had failed to turn up at any polling station to cast his vote. This triggered a debate over his eligibility to exercise his right to vote. Some even questioned whether the election of a candidate sans the right to vote could have the legal validity. General Fonseka, later explaining why he did not turn up to cast his vote, said that his name did not appear as a registered elector in the 2008 electoral register. He accepted that he had no right to vote as a result. It was reported later that the leaders of political parties supporting him faulted him for keeping this fact a secret.

In these circumstances, people may have wondered how he could efficiently discharge the functions of his office if elected. Some people even expressed fears that if elected president, General Fonseka would be reduced to a puppet in the hands of the JVP.

Meanwhile, the propaganda campaign carried out by Mahinda Rajapaksa was found attractive by the people. Giant billboards depicting the development projects implemented during the last four years such as the Ihala Kotmale hydro-power station, Norochcholai coal-powered power plant, Kerawalapitiya power plant, Hambantota harbour and road flyovers told the story of the government’s performance in the development sector while fighting a war in the North and East.

On no occasion did the President revile his rival candidates. Nor did he sling mud at them. His appeal for co-operation and support to carry out his programme of work was the hallmark of all his speeches.

No surprise people did not believe the General
People have a great regard for President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the leader who ended the 30-year-long war. They look on him as a leader with an empathic understanding of the suffering of the people. It is no wonder that he could win the election by a massive majority of 1.8 million votes. It is no surprise either that the people placed no faith in General Sarath Fonseka who has no vision or policy framework - a person who entered the fray with the backing of a medley crowd with divergent views on vital national issues.