Originally Published 2010-10-05 00:00:00 Published on Oct 05, 2010
Not all is lost for Fonseka, as yet. He has every right to move the Supreme Court in every case against him, civil or military. The temptation for keeping the political pot boiling is also there, but that will not change the course of the legal and judicial processes.
Introspection Time in Fonseka's Case?
It is not entirely unsurprising that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has attested GCM-II’s award of a 30-month jail term to cashiered Army commander Sarath Fonseka nor is the near-subsequent announcement of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa that the President would be willing to consider any appeal for redressal in the matter.

Shorn of nuances, if any, Gotabhaya’s observation that it was an internal and personal matter needing to be handled accordingly reflects the ground reality. A Government that has stood its ground on human rights issues pertaining to the war years cannot be expected to yield now on an individual. Fonseka was daring, ambitious and suspicious in the eyes of the powers-that-be through his out-of-turn pronouncements while in command. Now, it may thus be time for him to introspect on what went wrong.

It is one thing for Fonseka to say that he would not seek presidential pardon, as news reports have quoted his wife Anoma. It is another for the lady to ask for the way in which the Government expected her husband to approach the President in the matter. The law is clear, and obviously such questions in the public domain are an expression of dissent rather than an attempt to set ruffled feathers in order.

Not all is lost for Fonseka, as yet. He has every right to move the Supreme Court in every case against him, civil or military. The temptation for keeping the political pot boiling is also there, but that will not change the course of the legal and judicial processes. The same applies to the tough moral posture that he could continue to adopt.

As a prisoner at Wellikada, Fonseka seems to need his political supporters as much as they need him. Yet, it would take him nowhere, either politically or legally. The man is distraught and the political Opposition, divided.  His membership of Parliament has not saved him. It is in question, now.

Fonseka’s strategic skills as the commander of the armed forces that defeated the unconquerable LTTE failed him as a politician, ill-equipped as he was to read the bold writing on the electoral wall. Or, was he blinded by his political ambitions on the one hand and the misleading interpretations offered by all those opposed to President Rajapaksa, on the other? The truth still lies in between, but it is Fonseka who is paying the price for the ill-advisable moves that he had made.

Fonseka did not add value to the Opposition vote-share, which remained at a pre-determined 40 per cent despite his presidential candidacy. Those who did not want to lose their vote-share to further  President Rajapaksa wanted him. Those who did not want to be seen as losing again, too, wanted him.

The anti-Rajapaksa camp will continue to want him, despite the anticipated resurfacing of old differences, until they get a different issue and a different voter-mood, to revive their sagging morale. Fonseka’s use for them as a unifying force did not produce any tangible electoral result that they all could crow over. His use as a common candidate a second time will not emerge.

Those who want to fight for Fonseka have externalised their protests, where it does not matter. Those who are fighting for him inside the country do not matter, any more in political and electoral terms. Both will remain so until an over-arching agenda emerges on the political arena. It could be inflation and price rise, human rights and larger issues of governance. With that would end their intervening interest in Fonseka.

It’s time Fonseka reassessed his capacities for donning a political role, particularly at the leadership level. He should think even more about the advisability of inducting his wife Anoma into hardcore politics, as a National List MP, if he were to be denied a continued role in Parliament and if his DNA is agreeable to such a proposition.

The days of Sirimavo Bandaranaike are over. There is a near-vacuum in Opposition politics in the country, yes, but Anoma Fonseka is yet to display the kind of staying and fighting capacity that made Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga what she represented in her time -- and what she became.

President Rajapaksa is still in his first term, and fresh elections for the presidency are not due for another six years. If Fonseka were to continue with his moral posturing -- and also allow the legal processes to take their course -- it is not impossible that Fonseka would have run out his prison term half way to that point. At best, Anoma Fonseka could keep the lights afire but that is not saying much. Having sent the fear of military discipline into Army deserters on the one hand, and ensuring that the fighting troops did not repeat the crudity and cruelty of the Eighties during the ‘Eelam War IV’ through the institution of court martial, that too in a high 8,500 cases, Fonseka cannot now argue against the same. In a nation where the troops’ number is disproportionate to the larger population for a contemporary democratic society, any further dilution of the institution’s image could do more harm than good.

Nor can Fonseka look aside and complain about politicisation of his case, he having taken the political road while in office. His mid-war interview for the ‘minority community’ to accept the preponderance of the majority in Sri Lanka paled in significance when he made an unilateral post-war declaration that the strength of the armed forces would be doubled. Both were policy decisions beyond the pale of his mandate as Army Commander, causing eyebrows to rise far beyond the Rajapaksa camp.

It is one thing for Fonseka to argue his cases before the higher judiciary. It is another for the Government and the President to take a pragmatic view of things -- and initiate a reconciliatory process, which post-war Sri Lanka needs on all fronts and all scores. Having pushed the Fonseka issue to the brim, the Government too should know where to stop and when to retreat, with every one’s honour still intact. It does not stop with the honour of Fonseka the individual but has more to do with the honour of the armed forces as an institution and Sri Lanka as a nation.

The civil society organisations that have since been arguing Fonseka’s case were the ones that were shocked beyond conciliation when Fonseka made controversial statements while in office. His wife has since met the Mahanayakes, with whom President Rajapaksa is also believed to be in touch. Between them all, they can -- and should -- work out an honourable exit for all concerned. A right balance has to be struck, and the right timing chosen. This may be ‘it’, after all!

Welikada being Welikada, housing hardcore LTTE cadres as well, the Government, having to ensure the personal safety of Fonseka, can think of moderating ways, in the interim. Having had him in a civil prison, the Government could now consider declaring safe houses as prison under the law for housing Fonseka, combining safety of the individual with the dignity of the high office that he had held!

(Courtesy: Daily Mirror, Colombo. The author is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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