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From Hero to Zero: The Fonseka fallout

[Sunday Times.lk, Sunday, 18 October 2009 11:03 No Comment]

The rain clouds over Colombo provided some shade from an otherwise sultry morning last Monday.

Below, at its sports grounds, the Sri Lanka Army, celebrating its 60th anniversary, was adding another chapter to its chequered history. Honoured as the first serving Army officer under the new CDS Act to become the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), was General Sarath Fonseka. Earlier, General Lionel Balagalle served as CDS in addition to being Commander of the Army. However, his appointment was under Emergency Regulations.

Monday’s parade was the grand finale to a string of national events. Only two days earlier (October 10), the new Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, had his parade. The defeat of Tiger guerrillas in May this year, added greater significance and made the events a focal point of public attention. This was particularly so after high-pitched advance publicity through the media.

The CDS Act, passed by Parliament in June, made it mandatory for a serving Commander of the armed forces to be appointed. It was for a stipulated term of two years. Additionally, this historic event was one of several the Government had allowed Gen. Fonseka to organise, to mark the 60th anniversary, since he relinquished office as Commander of the Army in July, this year. It seemed a reward for his steering the Army in the military campaign against the guerrillas. Otherwise, it would have been the sole responsibility of the incumbent Commander.

Officers (54) and men (1190), representing all units of the Army, from Artillery to the Rifle Corps, were in their number one (blue) uniforms. They stood there clutching Chinese-built T-56 assault rifles with shining bayonets mounted. The exceptions were the Special Forces and the Commandos, the two elite units, which donned their camouflage uniform. They carried Israeli-made mini Uzi rifles.

Gen. Fonseka mounted the red-carpeted saluting dais on the Army grounds. It was positioned across the wall from the Army Hospital, facing the Galle Face Green and the Indian Ocean. Major General Mahesh Senanayake, the parade commander, was sporting Special Forces regalia on his ceremonial uniform. He marched towards the dais, stood to attention, saluted and shouted aloud " Thumani Siyalla sampoorna niveradi. Pelapaliya obata barai. Niladari 54,.Sesu nilayan 1190 soodanam Thumani. Pelapaliya idiri kotasa keragena yamata avasara pathami Thumani." (Meaning- Sir, the parade is complete and ready for inspection. Seek permission to carry on.)

Only moments earlier his parade 2-IC (or second in command), Brigadier Ajith Kariyakarawana, had lined up the troops before the saluting dais. He is Director, Staff Duties at Army Headquarters. Maj. Gen. Senanayake, is now Director Plans at the Office of the Chief of Defence Staff (OCDS).

Maj. Gen. Senanayake shouted hoarsely "Dakunata Balang" (look right). The troops, in clockwork ritual moved their heads to the right leaving inches between their chin and right shoulder as they marched in synchronised military fashion. Gen. Fonseka was at attention saluting the officers and men. The rhythms of late C.T. Fernando’s classic Hela Jatika Abhimaney, played by the Army band, added to the splendour and stirred up emotions. TV cameras rolled. Photographers clicked away as journalists selectively allowed to cover the event made notes. Defence Attaches from Colombo-based diplomatic missions saw more history in the making.

Half an hour later, the colourful parade, a historic national event, to honour the CDS, ended. Gen. Fonseka began his address. His opening remarks, "this might be the last occasion I would address the rank and file of the Sri Lanka Army" immediately caught the attention of most present. It was only last week; the Sunday Times revealed exclusively in these columns, that the Government leaders were well aware that Gen. Fonseka had initiated a dialogue with the Opposition. They listened attentively to what he was going to say. Some even wondered whether he would make a formal announcement that he would quit the Army.

Here is the translated text of his speech: (It is carried in full as it will give the nuances to what the Commander of the Army that led to the defeat of the LTTE is saying now – five months after Victory Day).

"This might be the last occasion I would address the rank and file of the Sri Lanka Army. I thank all those who are present at this parade.

"In 1947 discussions were held between the then rulers and the British on the eve of independence to establish an Army, in keeping with the requirements of the country. On Oct 10, 1949, the Army was eventually set up.

"The Army has progressed since then and there have been 18 Commanders. The Army has served the country in various ways such as controlling riots, preventing illegal immigrants, helping during floods and cyclones, during the tsunami, during strikes, which were aimed at crippling the Government administration.

"Of the Army’s history of 60 years, during the past 30 years the Army has been trying to liberate the people by battling the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who were a threat to the independence and territorial integrity of the country. The LTTE was so strong that one of the foreign leaders, one of our former Presidents and several other VIPs were killed.

“July 2006 the army had to launch the operation to open the Mavil Aru sluice gate which was closed down by the LTTE violating all human rights of the innocent people there. This brought new light to the people and eventually by May 18, 2009 our forces completely destroyed the LTTE.

"I am humbly proud of the fact that I gave leadership to the Army to destroy the LTTE. Our forces showed the maturity of carrying out the war efficiently as well as keeping to discipline. This was the biggest liberation operation in the world to free hostages.

"It was not just due to luck that the Sri Lanka army wiped out the LTTE, ending a 30-year-old war, surprising the international community. The Army had to make lots of sacrifices and service to achieve this. The structural changes in the Army also helped to achieve this success. The fact that efficient officers were able to command the army helped to achieve this. The dedication of the field commanders and the efficient handling of the troops were one of the main successes in this task. My overall plans and supervision and the dedication of the officers and soldiers were the most significant reason. Their bravery was well displayed.

"Introducing new war tactics and providing the required training was one of my successes. The entire army was able to benefit from this. The Army was able to continue the war without giving a break for the terrorists and this was one of the reasons for the military victory. The fact that a high degree of discipline was maintained, corruption was prevented and the fact that the Army acted in an exemplary manner helped to achieve the success.

"During the past few years the officers worked continuously for the Army’s victory. Even the clerical staff forgot about leaving office at 4.30 in the evening.

"The war is something difficult, but those who were fighting the war willingly tolerated the difficulties as well. Those who were weak criticised the war. During the war, some of the talented officers had to deviate from the traditional systems to get the support of those working under them. The weak persons regretted this, but the talented worked under pressure and performed. I acknowledged the services of the talented by rewarding them and had to tell the weak persons about their weaknesses. The talented should be honoured.

"Those who really fought the war could be proud today and it is no secret as to who were those people.

"I should also thank the services of the Army Seva Vanitha unit that served during my tenure. Without spending time in criticizing the previous office bearers, they carried out their services efficiently.

"I also recall the services of the former Army Commanders and the retired officers and soldiers. We should remember with gratitude the services of those who were killed in action, missing in action and those injured in the war. Even the civil workers in the Army contributed. Their services should be recognized.

"After 60 years the Sri Lanka Army has turned out to be one of the most professional forces in the world, enriched with practical knowledge and experience. That is because the Army was able to keep to the expectations of the people. However, currently there is no war-atmosphere. You should continue to fulfil your tasks, protect the motherland and serve all communities.

"The victory gained by defeating the terrorists could be converted into a real victory if the people are able to carry on with their normal life. You should be dedicated to provide the best service to the re-settlement process in the areas that have been liberated.

"I wish to thank the President for the leadership and Defence Secretary for the necessary support provided to end the war which lasted against the LTTE for the last 30 years. I also thank the war heroes, their families and all people in the country."

The fact that Gen. Fonseka’s speech came in the backdrop of a dialogue he had initiated with sections of the United National Party (UNP) leadership – and the newly formed Common Alliance, made matters worse. Readers will see the last two paragraphs of the General’s statement. In the penultimate paragraph he echoes the theme-song of the Opposition Alliance – the need to re-settle the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in the Wanni camps. In the final paragraph he makes but a formal muted acknowledgement to President Mahinda Rajapaksa "for the leadership" – that’s all, and then to the Defence Secretary it is an even more muted acknowledgment limited only to the "necessary support provided" to the war.

President Rajapaksa had learnt the fuller details, as we disclosed last week, of such an interaction by his highest-ranking military officer with the Opposition through intermediaries. Most of it was via a UNP parliamentarian, who was once at loggerheads with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

A local journalist, a staunch supporter of the CDS, had linked up Gen. Fonseka with this parliamentarian. He had carried messages between the two. Gen. Fonseka, as Army Commander, once assigned his commandos to protect this journalist and a few other colleagues. This was over claims of a threat from a group backed by a then Service Commander of a different security arm, a claim dismissed by that Service Commander as frivolous and fabricated.

The journalist boasted to close friends that he was playing the role of an important emissary. A businessman, another parliamentarian and a company director were among others who had been facilitating the dialogue at various times. Some lay dignitaries of a prominent temple in the suburbs of the City have been mentioned as having played a part in the developing episode. It is known that President Rajapaksa, Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Gen. Fonseka have close links with the Temple.

From the Opposition side, Wickremesinghe has also apprised some leaders of constituent parties of the proposed United National Alliance (UNA), including the leader of the SLFP (Mahajana Wing), Mangala Samaraweera about the developments that have arisen over the Fonseka issue.

The Sunday Times has learnt General Fonseka had expressed displeasure over the way he was being treated since the end of the separatist war. He had pointed out the need for collective action in the national interest against incidence of bribery and corruption. He had also given his views on other issues related to the recently ended military campaign against Tiger guerrillas.

News blackout

On Monday, state-run television and radio networks completely blacked out all reportage relating to that morning’s parade and Gen. Fonseka’s speech. For any independent observer this appeared to be a clear indication that the Government was uneasy with Gen. Fonseka. Here was the Government that was justifiably proud of its Army for defeating the LTTE, and in which victory it was relying heavily to gain political victory, completely boycotting the very Army’s 60th anniversary celebrations. There was no mention in the official websites defence.lk, army.lk or the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS). On Tuesday, there was no reference in the state run print media either. Only a few private media outlets reported his speech, most of them playing down the critical elements in it. The black-out was all but complete, and indeed aimed directly at Gen. Fonseka.

It was on January 2, this year, that the General told the state-run Dinamina (Sinhala morning daily) "The biggest obstacle is the unpatriotic media. I am not blaming all journalists. I know 99 per cent of media and journalists are patriotic and doing their jobs properly. However, unfortunately, we have a smaller number of traitors among the journalists. They are the biggest obstacle. All other obstacles we can surmount."

He would never have realised that exactly nine months and 20 days later, that one percent of "traitors" were no more his problem, but the "99 percent" of "media and journalists" who are "patriotic" were blacking him out. They were unanimous that Monday’s events and Gen. Fonseka’s speech were not fit for Sri Lankans to know. Not even considering what a soldier with 39 years experience and who gave leadership to the Army during the campaign that militarily defeated the guerrillas had to say. What a strange quirk of fate for a soldier who had the media running behind him just the other day for an interview, even a quote or a sound-bite.

Whatever Gen. Fonseka’s idiosyncrasies have been, and indiscretions are, the 60th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Army was a national event and Gen. Fonseka made the speech in his capacity as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the head of the apex body of Sri Lanka’s military establishment. He was given the responsibility officially to organise the 60th anniversary events. It was a parade in his honour as the longest serving officer in the Army. Why then blackout news of this ceremony and the speech he made? Government leaders have remained stoically silent on the matter thus heightening public concerns further. But when the same media, especially the State media aired and printed various speeches by a variety of Government Ministers and deputies give broad asides on military coups in Pakistan, interpreting who patriots really are, and saying that the war was won by King Dutugemenu and not his warrior-soldiers, the cat was out of the bag.

On Friday Military Spokesman, Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, in a statement posted on the website of the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS), said, "false news was being published using various printed and electronic media" about a "defect" between Gen. Fonseka and the Government. He said such reports "are baseless and not true." His statement, however, did not refer to last Monday’s parade or why there was a news blackout. And, what on earth prompted this statement, if indeed these reports of a so-called "defect" between Gen. Fonseka and the Government were indeed "baseless and not rue".

Even Opposition Leader Wickremesinghe, whom Gen. Fonseka has publicly accused of helping the LTTE, raised issue on his behalf. It was on January 1 this year, Gen. Fonseka told state-run ITN all the weapons to strengthen the LTTE came during Wickremesinghe’s Norwegian-brokered ceasefire. On Tuesday, at a Nidahase Vedikawa or Platform for Freedom meeting at the Jayewardene Centre, Colombo, Wickremesinghe said the Government should tell the nation why the state-run media blacked out Gen. Fonseka’s event and his speech. "If he made a wrong speech, it was up to the Government to explain what was wrong," he said.

Govt. counter-offensive

A move that clearly showed the Government’s displeasure over Gen. Fonseka’s recent behaviour came this week, when their leaders launched verbal counter-offensives in public. The first salvo came on Tuesday from the Government’s newest hatchet man, non-Cabinet rank Media Minister, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, at a news conference. He said there was a conspiracy to bring military leaders who had helped defeat terrorism and make them political orphans. He said he would appeal to political parties not to render destitute the men who have won "national respect and love."

Speaking of conspiracy theories or branding others, as "traitors" has become a popular sport for Government politicians. It would have been better if the Media (non Cabinet) Minister explained why the state media which come under his own purview blacked out a state-sponsored function to celebrate the anniversary of Army, on whose back these politicians are currently riding.

What is also intriguing is why the unsolicited advice was directed at political parties instead of Gen. Fonseka. If indeed Gen. Fonseka was guilty of any breach of discipline or confidence, he should have been called upon to explain.

A more virulent attack however came from a more virulent politician who has widely acquired the reputation as Government’s ‘hit man’ on any issue. Non-Cabinet Labour Minister Mervyn Silva, told a ‘Jana Sevana’ public rally at Aramaya Place, Dematagoda on Tuesday, it was President Rajapaksa and his brother, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who steered the forces to victory against the LTTE. He was more specific in targeting Gen. Fonseka when he said that armed forces chiefs who are trying to take personal credit for the task, therefore, should not overstep their limits or swell more than their size. Silva declared "Kadulle tharama denagena kadabandimu, Thamangge tharama denagena Kalgewamu" (Pack your Pingo so you can easily jump over the stile. Live according to your limits.)

Minister (Non-Cabinet) Silva said, "For 30 years we had the Army, the ammunition, the Navy, air power, but why couldn’t the commanders fight the war? The leaders of the country did not have the foresight or could not take a strong decision. If only the ten Giants, like Velusumuna and Nandhimitra were there without King Dutugemunu, could the war against Elara have been won? The leadership was given by Dutugemunu. Similarly, it was because of the foresight, patience and bravery of President Rajapaksa the war was won……."

Then came, the comments by Minister (Cabinet rank) Susil Premajayantha. He told a news conference on Wednesday that people in Sri Lanka were intelligent enough "not to vote for just anybody" at a Presidential election. "Look at Pakistan. The country is in a total mess since military strongman Zia ul Haq took over the rule in a coup from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto years ago. It disrupted civilian life and the economy. The trend of destabilization continues even today," he said.

His remarks were not the best of news from a Government Minister to a friendly country like Pakistan, a nation that had helped in the military campaign against Tiger guerrillas. The best and most committed supporters of Sri Lanka’s ‘war against terror’ were the military Generals from Gen. Zia ul Haq to Gen. Pervez Musharaff.

Premajayantha also forgot in the process that his President has recently visited Myanmar and had struck a cordial friendship with the military junta in that country under Gen. Than Shwe who rules with an iron fist squashing any democracy and having locked up the Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi. What is sauce for Pakistan is not sauce for Myanmar in the Minister’s history book. But then, he must surely have thought that if Ministers Mahinda Samarasinghe, G.L. Peiris, Milinda Moragoda think themselves as virtual Foreign Ministers of Sri Lanka, why can’t he also dabble in a little bit of foreign affairs himself – to hell with foreign relations with friendly countries.

However, what he was alluding to was the dangers of a military man taking over political leadership of Sri Lanka. One could not have made a more direct reference to widespread speculation over Gen. Fonseka becoming the Opposition’s common candidate at a Presidential election – or instigating a military coup detat’ , something (as we wrote in this column last week) that the highest levels of the Defence Ministry were concerned of in the immediate aftermath of the LTTE’s defeat.

Brig, Nanayakkara was to say on Friday that these statements about a rift between Gen. Fonseka and the Government were in fact, "illegal". From where he got that interpretation of the law is unclear, but then if it were, legal action should first be taken against Ministers Premajayantha, Silva and Abeywardene for the statements they made this week clearly displaying Government uneasiness with Gen. Fonseka’s conduct.

Three key concerns

There were at least three key elements in Gen. Fonseka’s speech on Monday that was, rightly or wrongly, the cause for concern for the Government. The first was his declaration that "This might be the last occasion I would address the rank and file of the Sri Lanka Army." It sparked off speculation that as a follow-up to his dialogue with the Opposition, he was now planning to quit the Army, and even Government service. He had already snubbed the President with a refusal to accept the post of Secretary to the Ministry of Sports. However, Gen. Fonseka had a different explanation. He told friends when his current tenure in the Army expires on December 18, this year; he would not seek an extension. On this date, he will be 59 years, and would, therefore, not have occasion to address troops again.

Thus, he would be out of the Army on that date and will not be eligible, according to the CDS law, from holding office. However, others argue that by being appointed to the CDS post for two-year tenure, his term would have been extended automatically. If indeed he plans to quit in December, then Gen. Fonseka’s term is going to be shorter lived than expected. On October 23, he travels to the United States on a trip, which is partly official and the rest holiday. He is a US Green Card holder and has a home in Oklahoma.

A senior Government official has arranged a meeting for him with US Assistant Secretary Robert Blake. This was before the recent controversy broke out. He will be absent for three weeks. That would mean, on return to Sri Lanka, he would be left with only three more weeks to serve as CDS if he does not quit before.

The second element in his speech was the reference to what Gen. Fonseka called "talented officers." He said, "During the war, some of the talented officers had to deviate from the traditional systems to get the support of those working under them. The weak persons regretted this, but the talented worked under pressure and performed. I acknowledged the services of the talented by rewarding them and had to tell the weak persons about their weaknesses. The talented should be honoured."

Senior Army officers felt the reference was to officers who, in Gen. Fonseka’s view did not contribute to the war effort. Those affected held different opinions and complained they were overlooked despite their contribution. Many alleged they were purely due to personal reasons. On Victory Day in Colombo on May 28, 2009, Gen. Fonseka gave commendations to five Majors General, four Brigadiers and two Colonels. Then Commander, Security Forces, Wanni and now Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya was not one of them.

Soon after he assumed office as Commander of the Army, Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya declared, at a meeting of officers that "though I was not rewarded then, I have now been rewarded by the highest in the land by President Mahinda Rajapaksa." During his parade to mark the Army’s 60th anniversary, on October 10 Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya said, "I am happy that I made a contribution in the final phase of the humanitarian operation, as the Commander Security Forces of Wanni."

Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya added: "The leadership provided by President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Commander in chief of the armed forces will go down in the history of the country. I wish to note that his promise given to the public and the dedication, which no other leader had helped to achieve this victory. We salute the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who has the experience in the battlefield for the guidance provided. We cannot forget the commands given by him which were implemented through the efficient officers on the field."

The third and perhaps the most significant element are references Gen. Fonseka made to Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. He said in the very last paragraph of his speech,"I wish to thank the President for the leadership and Defence Secretary for the necessary support provided to end the war which lasted against the LTTE for the last 30 years. I also thank the war heroes, their families and all people in the country."

Quite clearly, what he said about Lt. Col. (retd.) Rajapaksa was far from commensurate with what he (the Defence Secretary) had done. Some facts are well known whilst the others are less. In his first year in office, President Rajapaksa, had wanted to replace Gen. Fonseka. It was the Defence Secretary who fought tooth and nail to obtain for him an extension amidst severe pressure not to do so. It was the defence Secretary who was instrumental in putting together a team, with the support of his brother Basil Rajapaksa, that ‘worked on’ India and managed to turn them around. He was the one who was able to have a direct link with the Commander-in-chief and make requests on behalf of the Armed Forces, including the raising of the numbers almost by two-fold, and it was he who stood firm in the face of external pressures holding the President’s not to yield. It would be grossly unfair to say the Defence Secretary just provided "necessary support" to end the war. It is well known he did much more.

The entire wherewithal needed for the war effort- both men and material – was provided by the Defence Secretary. His influence as the President’s brother opened doors for him both in Sri Lanka and abroad. He made several secret missions abroad to ensure that the supply lines for the war effort continued without disruption. Without this, leave alone winning, but fighting a separatist war would not have been possible. He was also instrumental in having the armed forces commanders rewarded for their role in militarily defeating the guerrillas. Gen. Fonseka was given a prime plot of city land worth Rs 90 million. He also received a duty free vehicle said to be worth as much as Rs 40 million.

At various fora where there had been bitter criticism, particularly during closed-door discussions at Temple Trees, the Defence Secretary had defended Gen. Fonseka. Ironic enough, it was he who saw through the rise of Gen. Fonseka’s career has now become his target. Whilst Gen. Fonseka was from the third intake into the Army, Lt. Col. (retd.) Rajapaksa came from the fourth. Though the defence Secretary had to call him Sir then, the roles were reversed when he became Defence Secretary.

Uneasy tensions appear to have developed. On Tuesday, Gen. Fonseka cancelled the weekly meeting he chairs with armed forces commanders and senior intelligence officials. President Rajapaksa cancelled the weekly meeting of the National Security Council that is held on Wednesdays. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa cancelled the weekly meeting, which discusses security-related matters in the Western Province on Thursdays. It is attended by the CDS, armed forces commanders, police chief, senior intelligence officials and is chaired by Lt. Col. (retd.) Rajapaksa.

On Friday, Lt. Col. (retd.) Rajapaksa cautioned that "if we don’t safeguard this (military) victory, we are going to face serious consequences." The remarks came at a book launch by Minister Champika Ranawaka. The Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force were present at the event. However, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Fonseka was conspicuous by his absence, though his wife was present.

On Wednesday night, President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Rajapaksa attended the Army’s 60th anniversary banquet at the Colombo Hilton. However, at a different end, Gen. Fonseka was seated on the same table with the two VIPs and the Commander of the Army, Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya during a five-course dinner. Participants said they did not see him in conversation with the VVIPs.

Before a trip to Singapore last Sunday, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa is learnt to have briefed both the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the National Freedom Front (NFF) about developments arising from Gen. Fonseka’s dialogue with the Opposition. Both have vowed support to the UPFA and said Gen. Fonseka would not be able to defeat the ruling party. NFF leader, Wimal Weerawansa, was asked by a journalist "Oyage honda yaaluwa mokkada mey karanna yanney? (What is your good friend trying to do?) "Mage honda yaaluwa? (he queried "My good friend?"), then declared Eya yuddeta vitharai magey yaaluwa wuney (He became my friend only for the war effort).

Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President and Jayantha Wickremaratne, Police Chief, accompanied the Defence Secretary to Singapore. They were taking part in the first ever Interpol and United Nations peacekeeping partnership ministerial meeting. According to Ronald K. Noble, the Secretary General of the Interpol, the organization plans to deliver international police expertise, "more skilled police personnel and frontline access to its global resources in countries suffering or recovering from conflicts, in order to help them achieve and maintain peace and combat transnational crime." Gamini Senarath, (Additional Secretary) acted both as Secretary to the President and Defence Secretary during their absence.

Gen. Fonseka is being strongly touted as the Opposition United National Alliance (UNA) candidate for the upcoming Presidential election. However, the CDS told his friends including those close to him in the media that he had not been invited by any political party so far to enter politics. He said he was following media reports regarding this matter closely but did not think it necessary to react. Similarly, he said, he had also ignored media reports when he was fighting the war. While one is not certain about the former, it is hard to think that the latter was anything but true. His response had come when asked about his candidature. The constituents of the UNA, besides the main partner UNP, include the SLFP (Mahajana Wing) of Mangala Samaraweera, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress of Rauff Hakeem and Democratic People’s Front (DPF) led by Mano Ganeshan – none of them being great fans of the General. The formal signing of the agreement constituting the UNA will take place next week.

Opposition parties, though not exactly the entire leadership of the UNA, have declared publicly they would welcome Gen. Fonseka to be the common candidate at a Presidential election. The JVP has indicated that such a move would receive its support too. Vijitha Herath who held a news conference at the JVP headquarters in Battaramulla on Thursday was asked whether his party would work with the UNP at a parliamentary election. "No," he replied but added, "at Presidential polls it would be a different experience." Mangala Samaraweera told a news conference on Friday, Gen. Fonseka was among those being considered. These comments are what have excited the Government and made it go on the offensive against Gen. Fonseka straightaway.

There is no change yet on Government’s plans to announce a Presidential election soon after the Vote on Account is passed in Parliament in November. Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa is to resign next week as National List MP. He is to be appointed Campaign Manager for President Rajapaksa. This poll remains slotted for January 16 next year.

Election moves

However, the Fonseka episode has jolted the Government. A proposal to hold parliamentary elections and thus deny Gen. Fonseka and the Opposition a political advantage, Opposition parties claim, has not been abandoned altogether. The possibility of holding the two elections one after another is also not being ruled out. Some opposition parliamentarians say preparations for Presidential elections may be a ploy. The Government is somewhat concerned about the Sarath Silva judgment that precluded former President Chandrika Kumaratunga from enjoying an additional year after calling for early elections. President Rajapaksa was the beneficiary of that judgment.

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