The arrest of Gen. Sarath Fonseka soon after the Presidential Elections saw a level of activity unprecedented in recent Sri Lankan history. The Government cleverly chose a date when Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was out of the island to arrest Sarath Fonseka who was in the middle of a discussion with the other Party leaders - a veiled warning to them as well. Ranil Wickremesinghe rushed back and all opposition parties carried out a campaign against the arrest or abduction as they termed it.
The UNP lawyers who were preparing his election petition led by Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC went into overdrive and filed a Fundamental Rights application to obtain his release. These cases are still pending in the Supreme Court and will be heard after the General Elections. Reports on the events that led to the breakup of the coalition are hazy. What is clear is that the UNF leaders were unable to meet with the General who was confined to his room with only the Daily News, would not have a complete firsthand knowledge of the situation.
His only contact was with his wife and lawyers which included Wijeyadasa Rajapakse who it is reported had persuaded General Fonseka to contest from the UNF for the Kelaniya seat. However, a parting of ways came as the JVP kept negotiating for their stake in the UNF lists. Other Party leaders and the MPs of the UNP who are aware of the JVP’s dwindling voter base did not wish to give the JVP such a large percentage which would have left them hostage of the .IVP similar to Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2004. Therefore, the JVP chose to break ranks persuading the Fonsekas to move with them.
Today, we are faced with a situation where the majority of citizens are unhappy with the manner of Sarath Fonseka’s arrest. This includes those who voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa who feel that the Sinhalese owe a deep debt of gratitude to the General. Their first priority is to have him released from captivity. Their sympathies are naturally with the Fonseka family.
The JVP well aware of this has appealed to the voters with an emotion charged campaign which featured religious symbols. The TV advertisements called upon voters to treat their votes as an offering. The press advertisements mentioned a prayer and then called for a vote for the trophy. The question that springs to mind however is whether the trophy can actually save the General and whether voting for the trophy will actually help save him.
The voting pattern of the recent elections indicates that the JVP could not by themselves expect to retain more than 5 seats island wide. By going with the General they could only hope to double or treble this base as the minorities and the bulk of traditional UNPers will not vote for them.
Therefore, they can never form a Government that can release Fonseka. But by projecting Fonseka as the Prime Ministerial candidate, the JVP is leading to the hardening of the Government’s stand against him. Civil cases would also be brought against him and Mahinda Rajapaksa is on record saying that no pardon could be expected for the General. What would the trophy do then?
The chances are that if the General is convicted for a period of over two years, he would lose his civic rights leaving his seat to a JVPer. We would then have approximately ten JVP MPs whilst Sarath Fonseka would languish in captivity fighting many legal battles which would take at least another four years based on the current rate of progress of cases in court. What his situation mentally and physically would be by then we cannot say as the forces out to destroy him are hard and powerful.
What then is the option left to save the General? Only by enabling the strongest opposition party to form a government can this be achieved. To this end, there is hope as the UNF manifesto states that it will immediately release the General. Our vote for the trophy that has no power to do anything for the release of the General would be self defeating. In fact, the General is in double captivity. First under the Military of the Rajapaksa State and then under the JVP and the trophy which cannot do anything really meaningful for him except use his name to enlarge its voter base.
And we voters - we must remember that we owe it to the General to do everything we can to get him released. Our sympathies and prayers are with the Fonseka family and we must turn to our religions to seek spiritual guidance for his release. But our votes are not offerings like joss sticks and lamps that burn out in a short time to ashes. They are practical tools with which we can do something for his release. And that release can come only by forming a viable alternative to the government through the main Opposition parties.
We must therefore ensure that we are able to form an alternate government to release the General and to do so we have to be realistic. To go to the trophy to teach the UNF a lesson would be counter productive, for when reality dawns in late April we will realize that the trophy could never have saved the General and we are the people who really worked to make an offering of him to those who are waiting to destroy him.