The Sunday Leader

THE CHOICE: MORE OF THE SAME OR IS IT?

A record 22 candidates are contesting the sixth presidential election, since the 1978 Constitution came into force. The country has another opportunity to elect a dictator for six years. In a nation where voting in elections is an addiction, a turn out of 80 per cent or so can be expected on January 26 next year.

Of the 22 candidates 20 of them put together would be lucky to get even one percent of the votes. The fight is between  the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa and General Sarath Fonseka, once his “Best Army Commander” in the world.

For the opposition there was no choice. After the disastrous anti-war rhetoric of the key opposition leaders such as Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mangala Samaraweera, none of the possible opposition figures were credible candidates. Taking a leaf from Samaraweera’s book, all of them have been successfully labeled as ‘traitors’ pandering to Western nations that wanted to save the LTTE. So the search was on for a war hero. The only way the opposition could even believe in victory was to find one and they did. The split between the President and his war winning army commander was the ‘gift’ the opposition was desperately waiting for. That says more about the incompetence of the opposition than the lack of tact of the President.

Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of General Sarath Fonseka’s candidacy, what it has done is give a new lifeline to the opposition. What was guaranteed to have been a lackluster presidential election suddenly has taken a life of its own. The once confident and arrogant government is feeling the heat perhaps for the first time in the last four years.

General Fonseka is promising to change the system, a system that since 1978  has institutionalised corruption, undermined every democratic institution and promoted nepotism, arrogance and misrule. A fact we know is that under the current system every successive leader and government have been more corrupt and more dictatorial than the previous one. The truth is that the problem is in the system, and as long as this system is in place we will end up with greedy, self serving presidents.

Some would argue with a lot of merit that General Sarath Fonseka is the most unlikely individual to change the system. Military officers in any country are taught to take orders and give orders. Democratic values such as building consensus, being accountable, are not necessarily a requirement to be a good military officer. However there are many examples of military officers who took up politics and became exemplary democratic leaders.

Fonseka’s lack of credentials as a democrat can be explained since his entire adult life has been spent in the army where he acquired a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense officer.

But then how does one explain the lack of democratic values in his opponent — President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa spent his entire adult life in politics. That has been his life. What the voters know is that in the 40 years Rajapaksa spent in politics what he has learned is the importance of promoting his family and the need to make certain that they are financially well off.  In just four years, the Rajapaksas, the opposition alleges, have become one of the richest families in the country. At the end of his second term, they say, they maybe the richest family in this country. That is the platform on which they are projecting this campaign.

The opposition alleging that the Rajapaksas are a bunch of kleptomaniacs is simplifying the issue. The plan of the President according to them is not just to make his extended family ‘financially comfortable’ but  to replace the Bandaranaike dynasty with the Rajapaksa dynasty. That together with the untrammeled power the position wields needs to be changed. It is in the SLFP that Mahinda Rajapaksa learned his politics. The party was controlled by the Bandaranaikes for over 55 years. For all those years the  southern Rajapaksas had to play second fiddle to the Bandaranaikes.  Only a disastrous miscalculation on the part of Chandrika Bandaranaike and an in-built destructive mechanism of her brother Anura, that opened  a slim chance for the Rajapaksas to take control not only of the party but the state it self. What is obvious is that they have no plans to let go either.

So the choice is stark. With General  Fonseka we may, just may end up with more of the same but there is a chance that at least some basic reforms to the executive presidency could take place. With that, democratic institutions could be rebuilt and corruption and other excesses curtailed. But with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s re-election one is guaranteed “much more of the same.”

12 Comments for “THE CHOICE: MORE OF THE SAME OR IS IT?”

  1. Joseph

    SF has given a breath of fresh air to the politics in Sri Lanka. for the last 50 yrs all most all Sri lankans know that most politiciens are corrupt to the core. They display crocodile tears ‘for the service of poor masses’ but plunder the country not only to look after their whole generation but also to their henchmen who are given chairmenships of national institutions.
    For the last 50 yrs ,I can not remember a politician being punished for corruption and mismanagement. There only only few politicians such as Karu Jayasuriya, who has refused posh vehicles given to MPs. By this act alone we know that he does politics only to serve people!

    So, why SF is different.
    - He is not tarnished by corruption and does not carry corruption bageges linked to most politicians

    - If he wanted he could have built palaces from one single army equipment deal but he even has not got a proper house!

    - A strict disciplarian, who will not tolarate plundering by others under him. Infact he has said, one reason to win the war because he stopped corruption in the army!

    - Kept his promise by ending the 30 yr war in the time scale

    -This was done by even appointing fearless junior offices who could do a job of work. Their is no doubt this will be reflected in his govt and their will not be any room for cronies. Certainly good workers, manages, administrators will be rewarded

    - Respected for honesty and integrity

    -Having managed with only a govt. salary, is aware of the difficulties of workers and poor masses

    - He knows the gravity of political interference in govt. sector and hence agreed to appoint independent commissions so that politicians will never be able to take law to their own hands

    - Certainly will never entertain underworld kig pins in the cabinet ( never ever a govt. will stoop so low!)

    Sri Lanka needs a new political culture. This opportunity is rare in Lanka. It is important to grab with both hands!

    • Cyril Herath

      Very well thought out Joseph! Thank you. And I add…for the long suffering masses, poor, cheated and deceived, SF is a breadth of fresh air. May he prove to be so when and after he assumes the duties of the Chief Custodian and Guide to all Tamils, Muslims and Sinhales in 5 weeks. True, eradication of corruption and economic development are his top priorities. But alleviation of poverty and social injustice for the down-trodden Tamils (particularly in the up-country tea estates and those in East and North) along with their Muslim and Sinhala brothers in similar situ are important too to lift their standards of life. General – seek the company of honest, compassionate and the wise and not pander to the ‘rich-by-exploitation-but got-no-education’ clique. (Ask Managala or Ranil Samaraweera – for examples). On a visit to the Hospital in Rikillagaskada, the hometown of a famous fruit bat, last may, I observed that the patients are forced to remove shoes before entering consultation rooms. The nurses (who project themselves as Queens, not paid by the people), and doctors don’t, and talk down to all and sundry = CORRUPTION in practice, which must go!!!.

    • Punnakku Bandara

      I agree. SF deserves to be President or what ever position he so desires. Even if he’s a crook (which I hope not), or turn out be one, then let’s us lament that it just was SF’s turn to get into the fray of stealing. I certainly am confident that he will be a great leader.

  2. Randy Mathew

    The only good thing that MR can do now is to ensure that a free and fair election is held next month. If the people want a better government, they will vote him out or if they want only the MR clan to continue to benefit, they will re-elect him.

  3. Cyril Herath

    Very Worrying News – The person UNF are conspiring to appoint as Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s Campaign Manager is a lorry load of SIN – big time, opportunistic, un-patriotic, un-educated and more importantly and positively no lover of Buddhism. I for one will wait and see now whether to vote at all.

    • Wilfred

      Sri Lankans are intelligent people. They are intelligent enough to reason out why cunning MR decided to call Presidential Elections two years before his term expires. MR knows he cannot continue for long with the way the various Government Departments are run now. All are running at a massive loss.The best he could do was to call a Presidential Election on the strength of his popularity and then have authoratarian rule after winning. MR knows the strength of the present constitution more than anyone else in the country. He knows he can govern the country with the help of the Armed Forces without anyone in the parliament. SO THIS WILL BE THE LAST TIME PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY WILL HAVE TO EXERCISE THE VOTE IF MR WINS. I AM SURE SRI LANKANS WILL NOT BE FOOLED.

  4. Rajitha

    ane nikan palayan ganiye yanna, umbata hikuwa eka ballek wage paramadde marala dalath thopi dan SF ta mada gahanawa, thopi honda mahindage kakkussi hodanna

  5. Derick

    Mahinda,Gottabay,Mahinda Samarasinghe, Rajive wijesighe,Keheliya Rabbkwella all will be going home on 27th. Have a great retirment folks thank you for screwing up my country for 4 years. Bye Bye ! By the way don’t forget to take your army boy Shavendra Silva with you. GOOD RIDDEN!

  6. Well,
    UNP got sucked into another coup by JVP. JVP will become the alternative to SLFP if SF wins. JVP will hold higher positions in the SF lead care-taker govt.
    As for SLFP/UPA, people are seeing through it and the demise will sooner or later will come.
    All in all, NOTHING going to change for Sri Lanka. The new wine will be poured into old jars and they too will loot the booty as soon as they get hold of it.
    If SF wins, All Corrupt Politico’s will be in incacerated. This would only be the + point.

  7. hey there, looks greeeeeeeeeeat, the only question is : how you made this one? where can i find the circuit for this one?

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