At the end of the first week of the Presidential Election campaign, the 14 million voters of this country seem to be faced with Hobson's choice - where their options are, to put it mildly, limited. Hobson was, for those who may wonder, an English liveryman who when his customers wanted a horse gave them no choice - he insisted they take the horse closest to the stable door or none at all.
We saw the mud-slinging campaign begin even before nomination day, with the incumbent President's camp referring to the one-time saviour, the candidate from the Opposition, as a traitor; those who had called him a Salvation Army commander are now hailing him as their salvation.
During the past week, the ruling alliance has pounced on a most unfortunate statement made by Gen. (Retd.) Sarath Fonseka who was quoted as saying that he "heard" that it was the Defence Secretary who gave orders to kill surrendering LTTE cadres in the final stages of the battle in May this year. That was not what one would expect from a war hero, and the General has indeed faced the political consequences of his utterances insofar as the public is concerned. That should be punishment enough.
The Government, on the other hand, has equally disgraced itself by making a sad spectacle of the entire episode with its responses drawing the attention of the UN Human Rights hawks. And whereas before the Government would rally round, quite rightly, to defend the General and the Security Forces, it nearly did, however inadvertently, sell everyone down the river for political expediency. Now thankfully, sanity has prevailed and there is a concerted decision to fend off the West-backed UN Rights agents trying to haul in the Sri Lankan Armed Forces on war crimes charges.
There is no denying the Government - and the now retired General were hand-in-glove on many issues, both good and bad, and there is no way that one could get to the bottom of the bad things they were co-conspirators in, without either or both parties being exposed.
A month after the glorious victory over the LTTE, the country's Defence Secretary spoke glowingly of the General to a local business magazine; "My sincere appreciation goes to the Army Commander, as I described before, it was the Army who bore the brunt of the battle. General Fonseka was responsible for the tactical planning for all areas in the Army. He personally supervised, day and night on how the battle was moving forward. Having him as the Commander of the Army was the decisive factor for us. His commitment, experience, knowledge, and also the way he performed was very important in this whole campaign" (Business Today, June 2009).
General Fonseka had expressed similar sentiments about the Defence Secretary in a previous interview; "In all this, the support and wisdom of the Secretary Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was crucial. Together, we looked into the important areas of arms and ammunition, weapons systems procurement, strategy and recruitment and training. The Defence Secretary also knew that we would have to fight. At that time 40,000 soldiers did not have helmets. Many had just one uniform and one pair of boots. There was a shortage of 40,000 numbers of flak jackets. We needed to replenish stocks and get ready for a prolonged engagement with the enemy, and this is exactly what we did" (Business Today, Dec. 2008).
We entirely agree with both views expressed. But both camps are saying something else now -- the allegations and counter-allegations not worth repeating. Readers would have seen on TV channels and in newspapers the claims as to who the father of that glorious victory is. Both camps little realise that the shadow boxing now going on in the election frenzy may cause them to be committing collective hara-kiri.
Party politics, democracy, and particularly elections invariably divide the nation, but the point is whether there is a need to compound the problem. The nation is largely agreed that the victory over the LTTE was a collective effort and no one person could claim exclusive rights to it. Winston Churchill would not have won World War II without his Field Marshals and vice-versa.
And so, it is time for a moratorium on this issue - we must move on to other more important issues that will impact on the people and the country in the next six years. The only issue settled so far is on the Executive Presidency -- the incumbent saying he will continue with it and the challenger saying he will abolish it. We are happy to publish in our Business section this week at least some of the positions taken up by the two main candidates on the economic front.
Similarly, we would like them to deal with the issues ahead rather than aimless mud-slinging. Surely, the voters deserve better than what's going on now.
Need for eco-nomics
While there is enough 'heat' being generated in this otherwise cool December/January season in Sri Lanka, and most of the Northern Hemisphere of the world is going through a bitter winter, we seem nowhere closer to resolving issues of 'global warming' that will affect the future of the world.
Last week's Copenhagen Summit failed to yield any worthwhile decisions on the control of carbon emissions - widely identified as the root cause of global warming.
The delegates (government leaders) could not set any concrete targets, and seemed to have been happy that they - like lawyers who are not prepared for their case - have got a further postponement - while the clients (their people) face the consequences.
The tussle at the climate summit earlier was between the developed and the developing nations; now there is a third group -- the least developing. Analysts speculate that the third group was created to de-rail the mounting challenge to the developed by the developing and thereby postpone any agreement being reached. The developed simply want to buy their way out of the problem by offering money to the developing but were not prepared to do their part in cutting carbon emissions.
Sri Lanka seems to have pushed for the implementation of the previous Kyoto Protocol which the US does not recognise - and called for developed countries to commit to ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Yet the country's own carbon footprint has increased in recent years simply by the commissioning of the Chinese coal fired power plant at Norichchiyagama. The Government must bear this responsibility. Development nowadays cannot be at any cost to the environment anymore.