General Fonseka under pressure not to contest general election

• Minister D.M. Jayaratne’s name has been proposed as the next UPFA prime minister
• The Joint Opposition Alliance splits with the UNP disagreeing on the ‘Swan’ symbol
• The JVP has now strung up a new alliance called the Democratic National Alliance
• The Maha Sangha has reaffirmed its faith in President

The arrest of General Sarath Fonseka by Military Police for questioning about his alleged complicity in a conspiracy to overthrow the government served as a tonic to the highly demoralised UNP and the JVP. This event provided them with a telling slogan to be used at the upcoming general election.

The leaders of the two parties lost no time in attacking the government at hastily convened media briefings and street protests saying that a war hero, who had liberated the country from terrorism, had been arrested after branding him as a traitor. They described this as an act of sheer political revenge and condemned the humiliation caused to a war hero when former LTTE leaders such as Karuna Amman and Pillayan had been bestowed with the high office of ministers. It was obvious that that they were trying to create a groundswell of anti-government opinion in the country. They called on the Mahanayake Theras of the Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters in groups to convince them that the arrest of General Fonseka without any charges against him was an act of political revenge.

Karu Jayasuriya, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, Tissa Attanayake, Lakshman Kiriella, Somawansa Amarasinghe, Tilvin Silva and Vijitha Herath made several group visits to the Malwatte and Asgiriya Maha Viharas in the course of last week on this mission.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in the habit of taking time off whenever he could to call on the Mahanayake Theras. But at the time General Fonseka was arrested, the President was on an official visit to Russia. None of the ministers too had visited the Mahanayakes during this critical period. Meanwhile, pro-JVP bhikkhus paid frequent visits to the Malwatte and Asgiriya Maha Viharas to complain to the Mahanayakes that the administration was being run with a callous disregard for the rule of the law, political opponents were being persecuted and the General had been arrested to prevent him from filing an election petition challenging the final result of the election. The UNP and JVP leaders made it a point to take journalists and TV crews of private media along with them whenever they called on the Mahanayakes with a view to making a public show of their visits.

The Mahanayakes of Asgiriya, Malwatte, Ramanna Nikaya and Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha, having seriously considered only one side of the picture presented to them, decided to conduct a convention of Maha Sangha of the three Nikayas at the Udamaluwa of the Sri Dalada Maligawa on February 18. The leaders of the UNP and the JVP as well as pro-JVP bhikkhus looked on the planned convention of Maha Sangha as a victory they had scored. The Government realised the seriousness of this development a bit too late.

Meanwhile, a group of bhikkhus led by Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka and former navy commander Wasantha Karannagoda called on the Mahanayakes of Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters and briefed them on the circumstances that led to the arrest and detention of General Fonseka. Later, ministers D.M. Jayaratne, Rohitha Bogollagama and Milinda Moragoda, who called on the Mahanayakes, further explained the reasons for the government action and countered the misinformation mounted by the opposition. Minister Moragoda dispelled the misgivings of the Mahanayakes by giving an account of the political, security and legal factors that warranted action against General Fonseka.

Thus, the campaign mounted by the UNP and the JVP to hold out to the world that the Maha Sangha were one in their opposition to the government ended in failure. Later, the Mahanayake Theras in a joint statement announced that the Sangha Sammelanaya scheduled for February 18 had been postponed.

The Mahanayake Theras, in their statement, said, “Advising the rulers and the people of this country to ensure their material and spiritual well being has been a tradition followed by our Maha Sangha from ancient times. With the intention of ensuring peaceful good governance in consonance with this age-old obligation to the nation, we decided to hold a convention of Maha Sangha at the historic Mahamaluwa in Mahanuwara on February 18, 2010. However, having given due consideration to the security of the Bhikkhus and the people due to assemble at the Mahamaluwa and the sanctity of the Sri Dalada Maligawa and its precincts, given the atmosphere prevailing now in the country, we wish to inform the Bhikkhus of the three Nikayas that the convention of Maha Sangha has been indefinitely postponed.”

Speaks to President
Meanwhile, a statement issued by the media unit of the Presidential Secretariat said that the Mahanayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter, speaking to President Mahinda Rajapaksa over the phone, had assured his faith in the President.

The proposed convention of Maha Sangha turning out to be a non-event caused severe disappointment to the UNP and the JVP leaders. Speaking at the launching of a one million signatory-petition calling for the release of General Fonseka held at the J.R. Jayewardene Cultural Centre on Wednesday, an irate Ranil Wickremesinghe said, “It would not augur well for the clergy following the Vaitulyavada Sect to attack the Mahanayake Theras who are the followers of the Maha Vihara Sect. The government, by extending patronage to these ‘Vaitulyavada’ monks, had created a schism in the Maha Sangha. (The followers of the Vaitulyavadaya were a group of monks who tried to misinterpret the tenets in Theravada Buddhism for their own gain. A Council of Sangha to ensure the continuity of the Dhamma in its pristine form, countering the threat posed by the monks of Vaitulyavada Sect, had to be held later, according to chronicles.)
Meanwhile, pro-JVP monks like Ven. Dambara Amila and Ven. Attangane Ratanasara have begun attacking the bhikkhus who had enlightened the Mahanayake Theras on the real situation.

Meets challenge
The UNP is now gradually distancing itself from the ongoing agitation for the release of General Fonseka, leaving the JVP to carry out the campaign alone. When charges of sleaze were being hurled at the HICORP and the General’s son-in-law Danuna Tilakaratne during the presidential election campaign, General Fonseka challenged his detractors to prove their charges in a court of law instead of slinging mud at him.
General Fonseka said, “If they file a law suit instead of making false charges of corruption, I am prepared to appear in court at any time. They are slinging mud at me. If there is evidence, why do they keep on talking? I don’t mind being handcuffed and taken to courts.” Many people thought at that time that false charges were being made against General Fonseka. The situation is different now. His son-in law’s deals are under judicial scrutiny. Meanwhile, the CID has recovered over Rs.75 million from deposited in lockers in a bank by the mother of the General’s son-in-law. The CID had told the Mount Lavinia magistrate that there were crisp US dollar currency notes amounting to a large sum among the monies recovered. Given these exposures, the conduct of General Fonseka has come under public reappraisal which is also a concomitant of the change of the UNP’s attitude towards him.

Receiving nominations for the upcoming general election began at the District Secretariats in the country on February 19. However, the main political parties have decided to file their nominations on February 24 and 25. The UPFA has already wrapped up their nomination lists and by last Friday, a number of district lists including those of Hambantota, Colombo and Kegalle had been signed by the contestants.
The UPFA is accommodating on their district nomination lists a host of coalition partners like Jatika Nidahs Peramuna, JHU, CP, LSSP, CWC, SLMP, and Democratic Left Front which have agreed to contest under the `Betel’ symbol. As a result, a number of SLFP electorate organisers have been denied the chance to contest the election.

Big names
The UPFA nomination lists are featuring several outstanding personalities at this election. Of them, senior national cricketer, master blaster Sanath Jayasuriya is to enter the fray from the Matara District. He launched his propaganda campaign after participating in religious observances at a ceremony held opposite the Bodhi in the Matara town. Olympic silver medalist Susanthika Jayasinghe will contest from the Kegalle District on the invitation of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Popular actress Geetha Kumarasinghe is to contest from the Galle District, and she has already launched her election campaign. There was speculation in political circles that popular national cricketer Muttaiah Muralitharan would enter the fray from the Mahanuwara or Nuwara-Eliya Districts. There was no confirmation of his candidacy up to Friday.
Former Parliamentarins Tilak Karunaratne will contest on the UPFA list for Kalutara and Vasudeva Nanayakkara on the UPFA list for Ratnapura. Ministers Nandana Gunatillake and Ferial Ashroff have obtained the SLFP membership. Gunatilake will run in Kalutara and Ms Ashroff in Digamadulla.

SLFP seniors
A number of SLFP seniors look forward to enter parliament from the national List. Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake, who has already decided not to run at the general election, will head the UPFA national list. Among others seeking slots on the UPFA national list are D.M. Jayaratne, General Anuruddha Ratwatte, Prof. G. L.0Peiris, Dulles Alahapperuma, Dew Gunasekera, Prof. Tissa Vitarana, Achala Jagoda, Mohamed Mussamil, Geethanjana Gunawardena, M.H.Mohamed and Dharmadasa Banda. Meanwhile, a number of artistes including Rohana Weerasinghe, Ravindra Randeniya, and Somaratne Dissanayake and also Sarath Kongahage and CWC chairman Muthu Sivalingam look forward to entering parliament on the UPFA national list.

JVP’s new alliance
The Joint Opposition Alliance, which threw in its weight behind General Fonseka at the presidential election, has split into several groups following the decision taken by the UNP to contest under the `Elephant’ symbol. The UNP decision has stymied the JVP effort to marshal the collective clout of the Joint Opposition Alliance to challenge the might of the government coalition by contesting under the `Swan’ symbol at the general election as well.

Fonseka writes
General Fonseka, now under detention pending court martial, had sent a letter through his wife Anoma to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe requesting him to contest the general election as the Joint Opposition Alliance under the `Swan’ symbol. Wickremesinghe, in his reply, had told the General that he could not countermand the decision taken by the Working Committee to contest under the `Elephant’ symbol and that they were happy to accommodate the General if he was willing to contest on the UNF list under the `Elephant’ symbol. Fonseka, who is very close to the JVP, had not agreed to Ranil’s proposal.

The UNP is now finalising its nomination lists. The SLMC led by Rauff Hakeem, People’s Democratic Front led by Mano Ganesan, SLFP (M) led by Mangala Samaraweera have already agreed to contest under the `Elephant’ symbol of the UNF. The SLFP (M) decision to contest under the UNF banner has triggered a split in the party. The party’s general secretary Tiran Alles has decided to contest under the General Fonseka- JVP alliance and its administrative secretary Dr. Sisil Bandara Senaratne has decided to resign from all posts he is holding in the party. SLFP (M) women’s league leader, former PC member, Upulangani Malagamuwa and wife of the late Sripati Suriarachchi, Dilrukshi Suriarachchi will contest under the `Elephant’ symbol from Kurunegala and Gampaha districts respectively.

Democratic National Alliance
Following the failure of all attempts made by the JVP to revive the Joint Opposition Alliance to contest the upcoming general election, it has now strung up a new alliance called the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) under the `Cup’ symbol. This is a pro-JVP political party which had already been registered with the Elections Secretariat. General Fonseka has been elected as the leader of this alliance and Vijitha Herath as its general secretary. The Elections Commissioner was informed of the names of the newly elected office-bearers of the DNA last week. General Sarath Fonseka and Sunil Handunetti will contest on the DNA Colombo district list at the April 8 general election. Arjuna Ranatunga and Tiran Alles are expected to run in the Gampaha district under the `Cup’ symbol of the DNA. Former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva has been offered a slot on the DNA national list, informed sources said.

Pressures mount on
However, General Fonseka is not likely to contest the April 8 election, sources close to Fonseka’s family said. Fonseka took up the position from the very inception that the opposition parties should contest as the Joint Opposition Alliance under the `Swan’ symbol at the general election as well. He also offered to provide the leadership to this alliance at this election. He had argued that he was responsible for increasing the UNP overall vote to 4.1 million from the 2.5 million recorded at the PC elections held earlier. And that therefore, he was qualified to lead the Joint Opposition Alliance at the April 8 election.

However, Ranil Wickremesinghe did not agree to the arrangement proposed by General Fonseka. He did not publicly announce his opposition to contest in alliance with Fonseka, but he got the Working Committee to take the decision to contest under the `Elephant’ symbol. Mangala Samaraweera had tried his level best to resolve the crisis, but General Fonseka stuck to his guns, and he had finally decided to contest under the `Elephant’ symbol for the sake of his own political future.

The close associates of General Fonseka have already advised the latter not to contest under the `Cup’ symbol of the DNA as it is quite obvious that the DNA would not succeed in winning a single seat in any of the districts. They had pointed out to him that in case he receives a small number of votes, the logical conclusion would be that the 4.1 million votes he polled at the presidential election are pure UNP votes and such an outcome would place him at a great disadvantage politically.
It is reliably learnt that the two daughters of General Fonseka too have advised their father not to contest the election. Given this situation, chances are that he might not come forward as a candidate at this election.

To go it alone
The TNA too has decided to go it alone at the April 8 general election. The party leadership has decided not to give nomination to five former MPs including M.K.Shivajilngam who contested the presidential election as an independent candidate, N. Sri Kantha who supported his candidacy and Shivanathan Kishor. Several former TNA MPs, who are now abroad, have also informed the party that they would not seek nomination. The TNA is expected to field a number of academics, professionals and intellectuals including a former government agent on their district lists.

Minster Douglas Devananda’s EPDP will go it alone in the Jaffna District. The UPFA will contest in Jaffna on a separate list. Devananda has said that he will join the government after the election. The TMVP, led by Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesaturai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan, is also expected to go solo at the election and throw in their lot with the UPFA after the election. Minister Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman will contest in the Batticaloa on the UPFA list. Ali Sahir Moulana, M.L.A.M.Hisbullah, Amir Ali and Ganeshamurthy too will contest on the UPFA Batticaloa district list under the leadership of Karuna Amman.

The CWC has nominated three candidates on the UPFA district list for Nuwara-Eliya and 2 each on the UPFA lists for Mahanuwara, Matale, and Badulla. The Upcountry People’s Front, led by the late P. Chandrasekeran, will contest alone. The party has decided not to give nomination to S. Arulsamy who succeeded P. Chandrasekaran as an MP as the latter has left the party.

Next PM
At a recent party meeting held at Temple Trees, General Anuruddha Ratwatte had proposed that minister Jayaratne be appointed the prime minister in the UPFA government to be formed after the general election. Minister Jayaratne, who in his eager anticipation, had on two occasions got new suits tailored for wearing at the swearing in as the prime minister, is a happy person these days. A grateful minister Jayaratne has decided to marshal the full popular support he wields in Gampola for the victory of Lohan Ratwatte, son of General Ratwatte who is in the fray from the Mahanuwara District.