21 May 2012


Former Army Commander and former Presidential Candidate, Sarath Fonseka, is in all likelihood to be released from prison shortly.  While the terms of his release are not yet finalized, all indications point to this controversial man  re-entering the social and political world he had to leave unceremoniously a little over two years ago. 
Few would disagree that Fonseka played a key role in the comprehensive military defeat of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization, the LTTE.  Even his detractors would agree that no one was better equipped to lead the Army and he himself would be forced to grant, whatever his subsequent antipathies are, that President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa showed greater wisdom in that appointment than any of their respective predecessors.  He was admired across the board for his courage, determination and skill as an Army officer, even though he did not inspire similar confidence as a politician. 
He rocked the political boat when he announced that he wanted to be President.  In hindsight, it can be said, he chose the moment poorly and worse, that he was naïve in choosing his friends, most of whom limiting themselves to using his name and incarceration for sloganeering and little more after that adventure was done.   

He walks out to a political world, but one whose landscape has changed much.  It is clear that his backers in 2009/10 found him to be a convenience to save some political blushes.  They were willing to let him borrow their respective political vehicles, for he was ready to drive them away from a known political abyss, that of contesting Rajapaksa for the presidency.  Once that journey was done, they went their ways, along with their vehicles. 

When he walks out, therefore, he will be embraced by those who admired his courage and those who still believe that he can offer a better challenge to the regime than Ranil Wickremesinghe could.  Elections, however, are not won by individuals surrounded by admirers but by those with the necessary machinery, the hardware of party structure and software of political acumen, both of which Fonseka clearly lacks. 

His party would get a fillip, certainly, but as the 2010 April result shows, it won’t carry him far.  He could aspire to lead the UNP, but what Ranil didn’t give Sajith, he will not give Sarath.  He could team up with the anti-Ranil section of the UNP and try to gather the JVP and disgruntled sections of the ruling party, but that would only split the opposition.  He could be another UNPer under Ranil, but that would compromise his image considerably.

Sarath Fonseka the Soldier is a national hero; a fearless commander.  This country is better served by him outside the confines of a jail.  Sarath Fonseka the Politician is a different character altogether.  When he was arrested, the JVP had a political presence.  Today the JVP has split, with the Tilvin-Somawansa faction looking tired, and the ‘rebels’ on the backfoot courtesy the identity and pranks of its leader, Premakumar Gunaratnam.  When he was arrested, the UNP was not falling apart.  It now has.  Mangala Samaraweera, the man credit for having convinced Fonseka to contest, had media presence in January 2010. Today he’s in the has-been column.  Back then it is ‘war-aftermath’; today victory’s marketability has been exhausted. 

To his credit, Fonseka didn’t inherit a ready-to-run Army and yet he was instrumental in turning things around.  Back then, however, he had to lean on President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.  Today, he has no one who can claim to have even half the stature of these two and certainly not endowed with the kind of power that made it possible to provide Fonseka the wherewithal to do what needed to be done. 

He has his work cut out for him in the matter of getting from where he is to where he wants to go.  He needs a political vehicle.  The ones available are no longer being hired and they are falling apart to boot.  A new one will take some time constructing. Fonseka was a man in a hurry.  He would have to reinvent himself.  Not impossible, but certainly a formidable challenge. 
Time will tell what Fonseka has learned during the long months of hibernation, and most importantly, what he has un-learnt.  One thing is certain: the nation will be curious.   Another thing is certain: curiosity wears off after a while. 

['The Nation' Editorial of May 20, 2012]


Ramzeen said...

Sarath Fonseka should sit back on his haansi putuwa and ruminate on his "Lessons Learned". He should stop looking for piggy-back rides on hypocrites and aspire to regain his lost laurels. Its not impossible. Then he should leave the pigs to grovel in their mud holes, pat himself on his back and rest in his bed of roses. More than anything else he'll be doing US a favour. I just cannot envisage him as my President doing all those political and diplomatic presidential things.

Shaik Ahamath said...

I am glad Sarath Fonseka is being released as I don't wish it upon anybody, friend or foe, to be deprived of liberty, unjustly.

From the outset I was convinced the due process of law was followed and that there was a fair trial and Sarath Fonseka was justly sentenced. If he is now being released to palacate Hillary Clinton or the UN, then we are shoring up for ourselves a dangerous precedent that will haunt us forever.
Our Constitution may or may not be perfect but I am proud that we follow it meticulously. There is nothing in our Constitution that allows for outside intervention in our judiciary.

Rory Winter said...

Sarath Fonseka is now twice a hero: once for his brave military leadership during the civil war and twice because he is the national hero who was jailed by an ungrateful, nay vengeful, president.

Serving a political jail sentence does wonders for popularity as history bears out so he will re-start his political career at an advantage over all the others.

Now Fonseka needs to build-up his image as a man of integrity and principles, the military general who went into politics in order to save his country. And God knows he'll have a lot of saving to do.

He needs to appeal to the growing discontent amongst the population; in that area he can simply take advantage of this growing phenomenon now that the post-war honeymoon is over for the Rajapaksa oligarchy.

His vehicle needs to be one that will promise the people salvation; salvation from the past and some hope for the future. If he does this then he'll be practically guaranteed a winner. Good luck to him.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

gratitude and ingratitude...i dunno. 'went into politics to save the country'...again, i dunno. 'simply take advantage...' -- won't be 'simple'. :) but yes, image-building would be necessary. politicians are made of promises and promises alone won't win elections, even in a perfect democracy. if promising salvation guarantees a winner, then every other politician that stood for election would win. not that simple. but here's my post-release note on the man: http://malindawords.blogspot.com/2012/05/sarath-fonsekas-day.html

Anonymous said...

Rory, you are living in a dream world. SF was inveigled into politics by unscrupulous oppostion leaders. He was trapped by his own words and foolish actions. I am not a Rajapakse fan; but he played into their hands. I am sorry he was imprisoned. But I agree that we must not allow foreign interference in our affairs.
Anon 1