Gen. Fonseka: Democracy, development and national unity

Ending weeks of silence on his post-military political career, the former Chief of Defence Staff and war-winning four-star General, Sarath Fonseka, last Sunday announced what most Sri Lankans knew by then. At the JAIC Hilton news conference his formal announcement -- “Yes, I am coming into politics” – came as no surprise. Yet it was a much-looked-forward to event where the Retired General not only explained his vision and mission but also dealt with questions the media and the nation had been waiting to ask him. We carry his statement and excerpts from the news conference:

The time has come for me to answer that question whether I will take to politics and contest the presidential election. Yes, I am coming to politics. Yes. I am contesting the presidential election.
I have no personal agendas and I am not coming to politics to further my personal comforts. I came to politics mainly because I cannot witness and keep quiet at the destruction and the negative things happening in the country in the political arena.

Gen Fonseka at his maiden news conference last Sunday. Pic by Saman Kariyawasam

The country needs a leader who loves the country. We need a leader who can stop corruption. This is the biggest problem the country is confronted with. We have to re-establish democracy, minimise waste and maintain law and order in the country and ensure justice for everybody and ensure the security of every community, every religious group, mainly the security and well being of the future generations.

I gave two promises. Around end of 2007 after two years of commanding the army I said that I would not hand over this war to the next commander. I ensured I completed the war. If I did not complete the war I would still have been the army commander most probably.

Then I gave another promise. I said that Mr. Prabhakaran will not be able to give the Martyr’s Day speech in November 2009. Within six months after I gave the promise, I accomplished that. When I give a promise I accomplish that. If I give a promise I will do my best to the best of my ability to ensure the promise is completed. So likewise any promises I give in politics will also be completed.

The country won the war because of the brave soldiers and the brave service personnel in all services, police personnel, the civil defence forces who made huge sacrifices for the sovereignty of the country. We can’t forget the people who supported the war which was launched to eradicate terrorism. I led the war for two years and nine months continuously without a break, without a pause. All Sri Lankans were behind us and gave us support wholeheartedly. Over 100,000 joined the army. If not for them, we would not have been able to complete the mission. I am honoured to have led the army which was the main driving force of this battle and who made the biggest scarifies.

Certain amount of credit will go to the politicians who supported us. All the heads of state of this country were equally interested in ending the war. The reversals were from the part of the military. If the military was successful like we were, if we got very close to the terrorist leaders in the past, the same pressures would have come to any government from outside countries. Similarly if we were on the path to success then no other head of state would have also given up. That was the case as far as the support given by the politicians are concerned. This time because we were winning, the pressures were increasing on the politicians but we had reached a point of no return so no politician had the freedom to turn back. We had to take them with us and go forward to finish the war.

The war we won in the past two years and nine months was not against any community. It was waged to destroy terrorism. We especially were involved in the military operation to liberate the people in the north and east. We are honoured to have accomplished that mission. We have a lot of respect and regard for those who were suffering under the terrorists and who have been liberated. We have a duty now to ensure their welfare, their security and ensure they have equal rights in this country and ensure that all communities in this country live in harmony like brothers and sisters, like one family.

I don’t know if the present government has done enough to ensure that we are moving in the right direction. I personally feel enough commitment is not there to ensure that we don’t lose the victories we have achieved to go and win the peace, win the development. They are only talking about their performance. The war victory was not the entitlement of one particular family. The victory is the entitlement of the people of the whole nation. A single family or members of the family should not try to develop their welfare or try to be the authority and owners of all the affairs of this country taking cover behind the war victory. The war victory has to be seen as the stepping stone for permanent peace and future development. The whole country must benefit from it.

The peace dividends are not achieved as corruption is at its highest. One has to get the hands dirty to clean the garbage. But I will not become reluctant and I will not become discouraged .I will not be hesitant to face the challenges and go forward. I will ensure that this corruption and destruction to the country is eliminated.

I have entered politics reluctantly. Sri Lanka suffered indignities and violence at the hands of terrorists. We have done away with the terrorist but now you can’t leave the country in the hands of a tin pot dictator.
I seek a simple mandate to re-establish democracy, and I will look forward to abolishing the executive presidency and I look forward to establishing a parliament that is answerable to the people of the country. The bane of the country is the executive presidency and we will immediately after my victory take action to abolish it. The presidency is being abused especially at present.

The government will resort to ugly tactics to tarnish my image. They are even trying to politicize the military. They have got men in uniform to sling mud at me.

(Gen. Fonseka asked the journalists to fire questions at him.)

Q: Those who mocked you when you were the army commander are supporting you now?

A: The opposition is entitled to express its views on how the war was being conducted. I gave my response to those comments at that time. … In politics there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies. We must get together for a good thing.

Q: You have said you are not responsible for journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga killings? Do you have any idea who may be behind the attack on him?

A: Not only for Mr. Lasanatha Wickrematunga’s murder, but also for various other illegal things that happened in Colombo, other intimidations and other attacks, they are pointing the finger at me. Those who are responsible for maintaining law and order at that time -- and even now -- did not do anything to find the culprits and punish them. Now it is very easy for them to point the finger at me. I was commanding only a professional army and I commanded the army as a professional job.

I did not have thugs, hooligans and drug addicts in that army. When this government and those who are sponsored by this government are pointing their fingers at me, it means they are pointing their fingers at the soldiers, the officers who worked under me. They always suspected the army. That was one of my main grouses. Who are the people who are manipulating thugs in this country? You saw it at the temple. These people are called “Kudu Gemunu” and “Kudu” various people. They are the people who carry out murders and attacks.

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