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The mysterious ambitions of Sri Lanka’s victorious army commander

To which victor the spoils?

from The Economist ~ Print Edition


Gen. Sarath Fonseka pic: Reuters

NOT even six months has elapsed since the protracted war with Tamil Tiger rebels ended in a bloody climax, leading to the Sri Lankan government’s triumph. But already the leaders of the military campaign are sparring ahead of an election due next year. For weeks the press has been speculating about friction between the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka, the hawkish army general who commanded troops in the final assault against the Tigers.

Jittery over rumours, spread mostly by opposition parties, that General Fonseka will challenge Mr Rajapaksa in the election, the government in October banned reports about his political ambitions. A communiqué from the army’s spokesman warned the press that several laws would be used against those who published “false reports” using the names of serving senior army officers.

General Fonseka is no longer army commander. But as chief of the defence staff, a post obtained after the defeat of the Tigers in May, he is the highest-ranking military officer in service. He cannot contest elections while in uniform. But his term ends in December and he has hinted that he might reject any offer of an extension.

During a visit to America which ended abruptly this week, General Fonseka, who holds an American green card (ie, permanent residence), told Sri Lankan expatriates he would step out of uniform to bring the country back on track “if it continues to go on the wrong path even after defeating terrorism.” Such statements, combined with goading from the opposition, have increased agitation in government, and particularly presidential, quarters. Some ministers are already cautioning the public about the pitfalls of a military regime. Others have claimed ownership of the victory for Mr Rajapaksa himself, rather than his military chiefs.

The plot thickened this week when General Fonseka notified the government that America’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had sought his testimony in a probe into alleged human-rights violations by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s defence secretary and the president’s brother, a naturalised American citizen.

General Fonseka was hastily flown back from America on the day the DHS interview was to have taken place. Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said no American government agency had questioned him before his departure. Still, it had taken several days of feverish diplomacy to prevent the meeting, which, intriguingly, General Fonseka had consented to two days before notifying the defence secretary.

The government’s obvious anxiety about General Fonseka’s possible candidacy is a consequence of Mr Rajapaksa’s plans to call a presidential election in early 2010, nearly two years before the end of his six-year term. He naturally wants to capitalise on the popularity generated by the military victory. But this strategy may backfire if he is challenged by the former army commander, who is hugely popular among the president’s main support base, the Sinhalese Buddhist majority.

As one independent Tamil analyst put it, the ruling regime’s main achievement has been to win the war. But with the victors apparently squabbling among themselves, which ones should people support? Mangala Samaraweera, a parliamentarian who defected to the opposition from Mr Rajapaksa’s party, says his former leader will now “not have the guts” to hold an early poll. Judging by the president’s actions this week, that prediction sounds premature. At the convention of a big trade union, he promised a pay rise in January for all public-sector employees. The next day, as General Fonseka flew back to Colombo, the president took a helicopter to previously Tiger-controlled areas and told soldiers that the salaries of all security-force personnel would be raised with immediate effect. This hardly sounds like a man shy of an early dash to the polls.

courtesy: The Economist


The President will no doubt have to go for an early poll as he is growing more and more unpopular by the day. Winning the war was a huge plus for him, though not an inividual effort, thereafter it has been a disaster for the country with his bungling of the economy, foreign affairs, education, health, human rights and the deteriorating law and order situation. So the longer he stays the more unpopular he will get due to the worsening situation which highlights his weaknesses.

His only option is to rule with an iron fist, suppress dissent, human rights and run the economy on the backs of the people. Hence he needs an extended term, two years is not enough. He can compensate for mismanagement , corruption and nepotism by imposing high taxes on the people and reducing Sri Lanka to the level of other autocratic regimes such as Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Iran, China etc., of course without the resources and wealth of some of those nations. Anyway who cares? and who will be able to speak up against him? Thus a person like Sarath Fonseka or Sarath Silva are the only hope for democracy in this country.

Posted by: SriLankan | November 5, 2009 10:56 PM

The army commander, who calls himself a "Buddhist" either does not appear to believe in courageous moral standing, instead of running away or facing justice and being accountable for his war crime deeds against the Tamils.

Buddhists in Sri Lanka are "Buddhists" by accidental birth to "Buddhist parents". They did not come into it choosing Buddhism as a good way of life.

Buddhists belive in an abstract path to "Nirvana" by eliminating all attachments in life. The goal in life is therefore to get rid of desires.

But why are the Buddhists in SL full of desires and goals in life let alone utter greed. They become soldiers, teachers, businessman and professionals. Their goals show that there is no Buddhism in SL.

The latest desire is to kill people. It started with Tamils and now it is the Sinhalese christians.

There is no Buddhism in SL. There is a barbaric cult which should be eradicated at all cost. Fonseks addressed this cult while in the US.

Posted by: Justin | November 6, 2009 04:44 AM

Thalangama police rushed to the scene and dispersed the mob. "The situation is under control. So far no arrests were made," SDIG Mediwake said.

A person from the Church Management lodged a complaint at the Thalangama police saying that over Rs. 34,000 damage has been caused to the premises by the mob.

Thalangama police is investigating.

to See full article got to this address

to see video evidence

Come to your own conclusion.
See the monk breaking the glass with his umbrella on video.

Police not arresting any one

Remember last week mentaly ill Young Tamil beaten to death caught on video.

If they do this to Sinhala Christians IMAGIN what they will do to TAMILS.

Rajapakses are power hungry. They will supress any one and every one to stay inpower. They have no loyalty. See what is happening to Sarath Fonseka?

Wake up my SINHALA Brothers........

Posted by: Compassion | November 6, 2009 08:25 AM

Get a life!

Posted by: Forget-the-passt | November 7, 2009 01:39 AM

Forget about Gen. Sarath Fonseka!

@Justin, don't be a moron to criticize Buddhism and Buddhists who do not condone violence.

I think fundamentalists, be it Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Moslems are a curse on civil society. You seems to be one of them, poor Justin!

Posted by: Max Headroom | November 7, 2009 04:31 PM

In every society where the army proved to be in excess of the real and legitimate needs catastrophe was to follow.

Pakistan from 1947 till Zia’s time was never tranquil. Zia went after the big bucks in getting money from the USA and the oil-rich Arab countries, ostensibly, to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. But within the country he was accused of minting millions in the guise of the war.

He was later blown to bits where the Russians were suspected.

Musharraf, the congenital liar (he was caught lying on live TV in Wolf Blitzer’s show when he was President promoting his book and today in Fareed Zakaria’s programme – both on CNN) and suffered Zia’s greed.

In addition, he protected that rogue nuclear scientist NQ Khan - who surreptitiously sold nuclear secrets to North Korea, the Iraqis and Iran. NQK is black-listed by the international scientific community.

Largely for his own personal gain Musharaff allowed the Taliban to grow – with the declared wish of destroying India – and now Pakistan is burning. Some historians predict the counry will soon disintegrate into Punjabi, Sindhi and NEFA units.

JRJ consulted several expert sources here before he authorized a somewhat “excessive” army. In fairness to him, he figured once the LTTE/VP were defeated he can de-mob the excess giving them civilian employment in an anticipated wider economy. But that was not to be.

The armed forces kept growing and growing while the poor country was becoming economically bankrupt – to the extent today many people cannot afford to buy essential foodstuffs. It is estimated there are 12 taxes governing imported foodstuffs today whereas it was 1-2 in the late 70s.

Even locally produced items (rice, vegetables etc are taxed heavily to keep the economy from crashing) Why did Sarath F openly ask for the troop strength to be reduced when the enemy was vanquished? He was on the right side then.

Today he presents a danger to the ruling clique and, worse still, there is every chance the army can split into different divisions faithful to different Generals ending up in a prolonged and wide-spread civil war. Mrs B’s populist move to win the 1970 elections by promising 2 measures of rice, which we could not afford (as Dudley – the contender, honestly concluded) and she won.

The country declined to a point when food shortages were so rampant it was a punishable crime to cook rice within one's home 2 days a week. The present war was won in May and if the soldiers were to be rewarded with a salary increase, it should have been then.

But now the big chief and SF are at logger heads and so the soldiers are promised a salaray increase with a personal visit from the Lokka while Elections are around the corner.

The man who won the war was neither consulted or was present when the good news was announced. To a large extent it is irresponsible populist measures such as these that brought this once promising land down – and the haemorraging still continues. Do we need a totally unaffordable army of 200,000 plus and an inflated Navy and Air Force?

In far away Costa Rica that S. American country decided Constitutionally to DO AWAY WITH THE ARMY. Their learned figured the Army was tantamount to their good and, at any rate, being a small country an army is not going to help them much in the unlikely event of an event of an invasion. They were satisfied in today’s world one country physically invading another, in normal conditions, is unlikely.

Today, Costa Rica is one of the richest countries in the region (neighbours - troubled Guatalamala and Panama) In a Continent where many countries the Per Capita is below US$2,000 Costa Rica’s is over US$11,000. They are the 1st in the world on the Happy Planet Index, high in the Human Development Index, 1st in the Environmental Performance Index (2008) and are working to be first country to be carbon-free by 2010.

The question before us, therefore, is do we need an army at all? If Mrs B did not miscalculate in he early 60s in sending the army to the North for a job the multi-ethnic Police then could have easily done, the history of this country could have been happily different.

For argument’s sake, even if India was to invade us (as is the general fear) can we, stop them? I think all our civil protection work can be done by a apolitical Police force (provided with modern arms) as they did till the late 1970s.

I hope I will not be found fault with for pontificating. I feel strongly for the country and her generally good and peaceful plural society. I am simply sharing what I see around.


Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | November 8, 2009 06:15 PM

Further to my comments today, lest I be misunderstood - let me assure I am not against an army in the country in the context we are in this part of the world.

It should be reasonably numerical, have whatever weapons and modern equipment necessary but generally remain in barracks under the command of the political leadership.

We did fairly well in this regard from 1948 until the 1980s. The Army came out to restore order in 1958 and 1977 where they won the appreciation of the entire country.


Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | November 8, 2009 06:32 PM

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