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Q&A-Sri Lanka’s top general leaves political future hanging

[Reuters, Monday, 16 November 2009 14:20 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s top general Sarath Fonseka bid farewell to his uniform on Monday and said he will announce a decision on entering politics within two to three days, amid speculation he may run for presidency. [ID:nCOL362269]

His comments came a day after President Mahinda Rajapaksa had failed to make an expected announcement on timing of elections.

Here are some questions and answers about Fonseka:

WHO IS SARATH FONSEKA?

A soldier since 1970, Fonseka was the army commander who spearheaded victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels in a 25-year war. Known for his volatile temper and win-at-all-costs attitude on the battlefield, Fonseka was wounded several times in action and nearly killed in April 2006 by a Tiger suicide bomber, but returned in three months and within days launched a 34-month campaign that spelled doom for the Tigers.

WHAT PROMPTED HIS RESIGNATION?

Fonseka in his resignation letter accused President Rajapaksa of sidelining him despite his contribution to the war victory, and of sullying the army’s reputation by falsely alerting India that there was a coup afoot in October. He was also upset with the president for promoting him to a position with no authority.

WAS POLITICS INVOLVED?

Both the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peremuna (JVP) and pro-business United National Party (UNP) have happily stoked talk of a Fonseka presidential bid. Neither has a strong candidate nor an obvious way to diminish Rajapaksa’s sole ownership of the war victory in the political arena. Fonseka’s resignation letter was drafted in consultation with senior opposition members, though the final version had been changed by Fonseka.

CAN FONSEKA WEAKEN RAJAPAKSA’S VOTE BASE?

Fonseka would stand on equal if not greater footing than Rajapaksa in laying claim to the victory in the war, a key to the incumbent’s popularity. Local media have reported consensus among Tamil and Muslim minority parties to back Fonseka in a UNP-led coalition, and they will be an important swing vote. Although the JVP is ideologically opposed to the UNP, some in the parties say the two would partner up just to defeat Rajapaksa. They coordinated a five-day job action by the unions they control earlier in the month.

WHY DID RAJAPAKSA POSTPONE A POLL ANNOUNCEMENT?

Analysts see the move as a ‘wait and see’ approach to buy time till the Fonseka flap settles down. Reacting with any negative comments to the general’s move would be a blow for Rajapaksa himself, as he had urged the public to support him and his military leaders at any cost to defeat the Tigers.

HOW ABOUT THE ECONOMY?

[Full Coverage]

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