The Holy War That Is To Take Place Between Two War Heroes
By Victor Ivan
The victory in the war against the LTTE made President Mahinda Rajapaksa a giant whilst making all other political leaders look like dwarfs in his presence. In the final analysis it created a situation where nobody was there among the political leaders who had a chance of victory against him in a presidential election. In spite of having certain limitations, the situation was that Mahinda Rajapaksa could easily win a presidential race.
Engaging a hero against a hero
Interestingly, this problem appears to have been overcome with the emergence of another war hero as a potential rival to President Rajapaksa, instead of the traditional leader of the opposition. The victorious war against the LTTE has created three great heroes. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Commander of the Army, Sarath Fonseka are these three heroes.
The role they played during the war was exceptional and unparalleled. President Mahinda Rajapaksa provided the necessary political leadership for the war. Commander of the Army, Sarath Fonseka provided the military leadership that was essential for the war. It was Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa who coordinated these two factors. Due to the exceptional roles played by these three characters, at the end of the war, all three of them entered history as heroes of the highest caliber.
All these three heroes were persons who were subjected to severe criticism by the opposition parties. The opposition parties viewed the war as a factor that strengthened the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. Criticisms by the opposition were not confined to President Mahinda Rajapaksa or to Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Nasty criticisms were aimed at Sarah Fonseka too, who is a professional soldier. There were instances when dreadful accusations were aimed at him by the Leader of the Opposition. There were also instances when the Commander of the Army reacted angrily in replying to those criticisms.
Due to these reasons, it is a victory for the opposition which was not in a position to put forth a credible candidate from among themselves, to draw out one of the remaining two heroes born through the war to contest President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Another surprising but important development coming out of this new scenario is the possibility of the JVP and the UNP being in a position to work towards the same end result, thus ending the bitter hatred that the JVP has for the UNP.
It was the JVP which acted as the grave digger for the parliamentary government of Ranil Wickremesinghe, when the UNP had the power of parliament while the PA had the power of the Executive Presidency. At that time, the JVP viewed it as a noble mission to banish an ‘unpatriotic government.’
Thereafter, the JVP acted in the role of the midwife who severed the umbilical cord in the political process to elect Mahinda Rajapaksa as the president. The fact that the JVP is now performing the role of political grave-digger of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government which they themselves brought to power, treating it as a patriotic savior and playing the role of midwife indirectly to bring Ranil Wickremesinghe to power whom they themselves removed once labeling him as unpatriotic, is an irony of fate. However, if the deep-rooted hatred between the JVP and UNP could end in this situation, it can be treated as a factor for the political advancement of the country.
In this crisis, UNP Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe has become the actor with the most colourful role. Earlier he was in a situation bogged down in mud up to this neck unable to get out easily. He did not possess the ability to become a strong competitor at this contest. The victorious war against the LTTE has made Mahinda Rajapaksa a giant while he was made a dwarf. In a traditional sense, he should have been the challenger at this contest. But defeat at this contest could have spelt the end of his political existence. Even if he followed the policy of allowing another person in the party to contest, he would have lost the leadership of the party and also any political prospects in the future. Preserving the leadership of his party and finding a method to launch a powerful contest against Mahinda Rajapaksa could be deemed as an important victory in his political life.
If it is contemplated that General Sarath Fonseka will emerge victorious and thereafter everything happens as expected by Ranil Wickremesinghe, he will be able to gain power to govern the country while General Sarath Fonseka could be limited to a post with symbolic importance. Even if the winner does not agree to adopt Ranil’s political course of action, he will at least have the ability to protect his party leadership. In this perspective, whatever the result of the election would be, Ranil Wickremesinghe will have the ability to preserve the party leadership.
Tamil political parties
Thondaman, Douglas and Karuna are with the government. Mano Ganesan is with Sarath Fonseka. For whom the TNA will give its support at this contest is a very important question. In an exchange of ideas between R. Sambandan, leader of the TNA and Ranil Wickremesinghe held in parliament; Ranil had been informed that the TNA will not join the opposition alliance.
Even though the leaders of the TNA have undergone a deep change in their political ideology, it is not clear what policy they will follow at this contest. Although they have abandoned the idea for a separate state or in the alternative, a federal system of government, they clamour for a just and a lasting solution for the problems faced by their people. The government has so far been unable to put forth a practical solution which could instill confidence in them.
Sarath Fonseka is a military officer who has exhibited exceptional talents in the military sphere and accordingly has achieved the status of a hero. Even though there are various opinions as to how the honour for the victorious war against the LTTE should be divided among the three heroes born through that war, the role played by Sarath Fonseka is very special. One may argue that even if there was a very clever commander for the Army, such a victory would not have been possible if not for the role fulfilled by President Mahinda
Rajapaksa as the Head of the State and Commander-in-Chief.
Another may argue that even if the Head of the State fulfilled his role, such a victory would have been impossible if there was no clever Commander of the Army like Sarath Fonseka. The contributions made by all three of them were very essential for the victory in the war and the honour entitled to Sarath Fonseka cannot be denied.
Since independence, no military officer has contested for the post of head of state. This could be the first such instance in Sri Lanka. The special endemic feature in this situation is that the biggest hero created by the victorious war is challenged by the next biggest hero also created by the war. In this sense, it could be termed as a holy war waged between two national heroes.
Until the entry of Sarath Fonseka, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government was proceeding on a path without any powerful challenges from the opposition. However, the entry by Sarath Fonseka has resulted in some changes to the situation. In a broad perspective, it could be construed as a favourable condition and not an unfavourable condition. A powerful government has to proceed facing the challenges and criticisms from a powerful opposition.
However, General Sarath Fonseka has to work with forces which are not akin to his ideology, but completely different to his ideology. Mainly, he has to work with a group who not only had no faith in the war waged by him, but who were very much against it. This incompatibility is quite significant and it can be comprehended as the weakest endemic characteristic of this union.
Sarath Fonseka is not an experienced political leader, but an experienced military leader. Even though a military leader is vested with discipline which is lacking in a political leader, unlike in politics, what is important in war is to command and to comply. In war, the command given by a leader should be complied without any questioning by those who are subject to command. But in politics, even a corrupt politician has to be sensitive to public opinion. Differing from the military leadership, people are the source of power for the politician. Such leaders who have entered politics after military service and proceeded forth in a democratic path could be rarely found. A majority of such leaders are those who deviated from the democratic path to an autocratic style of rule.
Napoleon and De Gaulle
The French Revolution is regarded as the revolution that expressed the modern values of human freedom. The French Revolution ended monarchist rule and established democratic governance. However when the first democratic republic created by the revolution faced a crisis, the responsibility to protect the republic and to proceed forth was entrusted to Napoleon. But Napoleon abolished the existing democratic governance and crowned himself as the Emperor of France. He re-established an autocratic monarchial government.
But, General Charles De Gaulle who established the fifth Republic in France after the Second World War did not create an autocratic state like Napoleon. De Gaulle was capable in maintaining democratic state conditions in France. However, it could be said that, like the constitution drafted by De Gaulle, his style of governance contained dark shadows of autocratic rule to a certain extent.
If Sarath Fonseka comes in to power, will his example be that of Napoleon? Or else, is it the path of De Gaulle? Or will it be a third path? It is not clear.
Silence of the common candidate
The UNP and JVP sometimes directly and at some other times indirectly state that their common candidate for the forthcoming presidential election is Sarath Fonseka. The UNP states that within 180 days of his coming in to power, the executive presidency should be abolished and their ‘Ten Point’ – Dasaraja’ programme has to be implemented.
Still, Sarath Fonseka has not aired his views on speculation in the country with regard to him. If the former Chief of Defense Staff wishes to contest the presidential election as the common candidate, he should be given the right and freedom to do so without any hindrance. He is contesting against the President. If the President uses any regulation as a weapon to hinder a person coming to the fray against him, people shall not view the President as a person with a strong potential to gain victory, but as a defeated president. At present there is only speculation. It cannot be envisaged that the President will create any obstructions, if Sarath Fonseka wants to contest as the common candidate of the opposition.
There is now a political challenge before President Mahinda Rajapaksa which he cannot avoid by any means. The victorious war made President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Commander-in-Chief, a giant whilst all other political leaders in the arena were made political dwarfs. There was no strong candidate in the UNP or JVP who could contest against Mahinda with self confidence. Finally at the end of this difficult situation faced by them, they tried to gain victory by fielding one of the other two heroes created by war against the hero who was also created by the same war. Even though it can be construed as unfortunate to have two leaders who struggled for leadership and historical importance to fight each other, it may also be beneficial for the country. Now the fight is between the Commander-in-Chief and the Commander of the Army of the victorious war.
There is no ability for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to withdraw even by one step. He has to bravely face the challenge. There is no ability for the President to go for a parliamentary election in the face of this challenge. He has to hold a presidential election first. If not, people will believe that due to the fear of facing Sarath Fonseka, a presidential election is not to be held and instead a parliamentary election will be held. It will not be favourable for the honour of the President. The President should face a presidential election and negate the current state of confusion. If necessary, both elections could be held closely to each other which will reduce the expenditure to be incurred by the political parties for election purposes. By creating necessary conditions conducive for free and fair elections, an advancement of political morality could be expressed.
In this political system, the power of the state is centered on the Executive President. Accordingly, in the struggle for power, a presidential election will have the priority. The party that wins the presidential election will get the opportunity to win the parliamentary elections on a larger or a smaller scale.
In the present situation, even though there is public criticism against the government, the President possesses a strong power base among the people.
The people’s power base of the common candidate of the opposition is not so clear. Even if all those who vote for UNP, JVP and SLMC together vote for the common candidate, there is a huge margin between such aggregate and the President’s power base. The common candidate of the opposition can pose a powerful contest if he could muster a large portion of the votes for Mahinda Rajapaksa equaling the aggregate of the votes by the three supporting parties. In spite of the fact that the opposition with the wealth of the UNP and the organising strength of the JVP together are capable of launching a very aggressive and alluring election campaign, it is doubtful whether it could make a deep change in the President’s power base.
Strengths and limitations
The fact that the UNP and JVP have moved away from the animistic attitude that prevailed so far and have come to a point where political negotiation would happen, can be seen as a favourable and progressive development. But the greatest endemic limitation evident in the opposition front is that they are a force which has come together to achieve one objective, that is, to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa. Even though it is good to have a common agreement to abolish the executive presidency and the UNP has already expressed the changes that are anticipated, it is not clear what sort of system the JVP expects in lieu of the executive presidency.
In this contest, the UNP has published their political agenda. The political agenda of the JVP as well as the agenda of Sarath Fonseka who is the common candidate are still unpublished and unclear. Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that if the common candidate put forth by them wins the election, there has to be a cabinet of ministers inclusive of representatives of other parties while he becomes the interim prime minister. Does the JVP agree to this agenda? It is evident that Ranil Wickremesinghe expects to face a parliamentary election and win while he is the prime minister. The thoughts of the JVP or the common candidate in this regard is unclear.
It cannot be discerned that the JVP would like to see the implementation of the political agenda of Ranil Wickremesinghe once the common candidate wins the election. Likewise, it is most unlikely that Ranil Wickremesinghe may agree if the victorious common candidate gives priority solely to the agenda of the JVP. On the other hand, if the victorious common candidate pursues his own agenda not being subordinate to UNP or JVP, the ability of UNP and JVP to prevent such a situation is also not clear.