Is Freeing SF A Move For Reform

Whatever may be the circumstances and the motives that led to the decision of the President to release General Sarath Fonseka, it can be reckoned as a reflection of the wish of the government for moving towards reforms and adopting measures for a moderate rule. Despite the accusations levelled against him after the Presidential election which eventually ended up with General Sarath Fonseka being arrested and prosecuted, the general public viewed the move of the government as a serious act of revenge taken by the victors against the vanquished. At the Presidential battle, a vast majority preferred Mahinda Rajapaksa to Sarath Fonseka. But, the policy adopted by the government against Sarath Fonseka subsequent to the presidential election of arresting and oppressing him was not to the pleasure of even those who voted against him. Undoubtedly, Sarath Fonseka played a unique role in the war against the LTTE. The commitment and the military skill of Sarath Fonseka remained a critical factor in the victory of the war. He was one of the three outstanding heroes produced by the war.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sarath FonsekaUntil the end of the war there was no conflict or clash between Sarath Fonseka, the Defense Secretary and the President. The disputes began only after the war was over. The President rejected the proposal made by Sarath Fonseka to increase recruitment for a rapid expansion of the army. It was from that point onward that the disputes began to arise. Subsequently, the post of Joint Operations Commander (Mandalika Pradhani) which was offered to Sarath Fonseka was not to his satisfaction. The President appeared to have had a suspicion about a military coup d’état alleged to have been planned by Sarath Fonseka to overthrow the government. Evidently, these misunderstandings created an atmosphere in which both parties were acting with mutual hatred and apprehensions.

Sarath Fonseka retired from the military service with the objective of running for the presidency as the common opposition candidate against the Commander in Chief when he (the President) was at the height of his fame after the victory over the war against the LTTE. There was none to give a strong fight for Mahinda Rajapaksa in the opposition camp. The decision of Sarath Fonseka to fill this vacuum and come to the political platform did not stop at inspiring the anti-Rajapaksa forces. Apart from that, it served as the major factor that united the anti-Rajapaksa forces which were paradoxically opposed to each other.

In a way, the rift between the Trinity of power namely President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka can be considered a benefit to the country. Had Sarath Fonseka continued in military service and remained the Joint Operations Commander, perhaps, the conduct of the government might have been even more rigorous and arbitrary than it is now. It might have turned out to be an oppressive rule which relies more on military support. In that sense, we can consider this rift as something that happened for the good of the country.

Considering that Sarath Fonseka was a frontline war hero and his advent as the  common opposition candidate for the presidential contest, there was a common view among the opposition political critics, that the President would prevent Sarath Fonseka contesting the presidential election using his power. But the President did not obstruct him in contesting the election as the common opposition candidate. This is a clear indication that as much as Sarath Fonseka had an authoritative knowledge on the subject of military warfare, the President is more knowledgeable in the subject of politics. He is a well tempered politician while Sarath Fonseka remains a war veteran.

Under the circumstances, instead of consolidating the reputation that he gained as a war hero of the first order among the general public which he had earned as a result of the significant contribution that he made for the victory of the war, the decision that Sarath Fonseka took to cross the threshold of the political battle field soon after the war, the contours of which he was not familiar with, can be considered the biggest folly that he has ever committed in his life. Further, there was a serious contradiction between him and the forces that he chose to lead and there was a clear manifestation of this contradiction. Sarath Fonseka being a war hero paradoxically chose to provide leadership to forces which were against the war.

All those who wanted the leadership of Sarath Fonseka, wanted it only for a short time. There was no long term need of him for anyone of them. Equally, Sarath Fonseka did not have a long term need of them either and most of them he did not like previously. He has desperately failed in making a proper assessment of his place in the presidential contest. Apparently, he did not bother to think over the likelihood of the defeat that he might  have to face. Consequently, when he was defeated which was contrary to his reckonings, he had to pay a heavy price for it. Was there a possibility of making a better country had he been successful?

Even the Rajapaksa government, if it fails to introduce far reaching political reforms and establish a desirable socio-political system, except for the credit it earned by defeating Prabhakaran, cannot be prevented from entering the annals of history as just another government which was equally bad and corrupt as any other government which had ruled the country previously. It may also be accused of failing to make proper use of the historical opportunity which no other government in the past had gained to restructure the corrupt social and political system.

Leaving aside the good and the bad of the Rajapaksa government, one may argue that if by some chance, had Sarath Fonseka been elected President at the last presidential contest, the country might have been plunged into a worse system of direct dictatorship. In that sense and in relative terms, the defeat that he suffered can be described as being something that happened for the good of the country.

Ironically, the dynamic political movement that rallied round Sarath Fonseka soon abandoned him after the defeat. In fact, the only politician who honestly did not desert him was Karu Jayasooriya. Suspicions and misgivings were among the other reasons that led the other political movements to abandon him. There was a strong apprehension among the leaders of the political parties that supported Sarath Fonseka that if he had been successful, perhaps he may have resorted to a dictatorial rule ignoring the political forces that supported him. These factors have had an impact on the isolation that he encountered at the next round.

However, Sarath Fonseka faced courageously and with firm determination the political vendetta launched by the Rajapaksa government against him. Yet, for a moment, it appeared that his courage had disappeared. Eventually, he was released. But he had to agree to a conditional pardoning. He too, appears to have agreed to it. Perhaps, he may have felt the futility of paying such a high price when he is politically isolated. A good number of political parties and organizations which rallied round him at the presidential election had already abandoned him by the time he was released. He had been reduced to a level of a Commander without an army.

Politically he is not holding a strong place. His position in politics is rather weak. Yet, he will be remembered and acclaimed in future not only as the best army commander that Sri Lanka has ever produced but also as one of the best commanders the world has produced.

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