In an unprecedented move, fifteen former commanders of the three Sri Lankan armed forces jointly met President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo on Friday and discussed the grave military and political situation in the country.
"This was the first time in the history of independent Sri Lanka that former service commanders, all of Four Star rank, had met the President of the country and discussed such issues," Air Chief Marshal (Retired) Harry Goonetilleke told Hindustan Times on Saturday.
The veterans, each with over 35 years of experience in the fighting forces, called for a National Front comprising all political parties, and the establishment of a National Secretariat to draw up a National Plan covering defense, political, economic and social issues. The Secretariat should monitor the implementation of such a plan, they added.
Rajapaksa accepted the veterans' appeal to work out a "national plan" and appealed to them to meet the various political parties and help bring about a consensus on the main issues facing the country, principally those relating to the war, the Tamil question and finding a political settlement acceptable to all communities and political parties.
The former service chiefs made it clear to the President that their move was completely non-partisan, and that they were only worried that even after facing a challenge from terrorism for 30 years, the country was still to get united and draft and implement a national plan to eliminate terrorism and bring about a political settlement.
The former service chiefs would meet the President again, ACM Goonetillke said.
Political context of the meeting
Political observers say that it is significant that the former service chiefs should meet the President at this juncture when the Rajapaksa-led government is facing the possibility of defeat in parliament on the annual budget. A vote on the budget is to take place on Monday.
Rajapaksa's ally turned adversary, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), is threatening to vote against the budget if the government does not ban the LTTE and abrogate the Norwegian brokered Ceasefire Agreement (CFA). But these are conditions he might find difficult to accept.
A ruling party MP and the chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), Wijedasa Rajapaksa, had crossed over to the opposition United National Party (UNP) saying that the government was sheltering corrupt ministers.
It is feared that other disgruntled MPs might follow Wijedasa Rajapaksa. Many ruling party MPs and ministers are said to disapprove the special powers enjoyed by the brothers of President Rajapaksa.
The parties of the minority communities, like the Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC), representing the Indian Origin Tamils, and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), are officially with the government. But actually, they are disgruntled and sitting on the fence, waiting for the JVP to decide whether to vote for or against or abstain.
Though the government has engineered one crossover from the UNP to its side, it is not at all sure if the voting in the 225-member house will go in its favour. It is believed to be using every resource at its command to see that there is no erosion of its strength in parliament. Its emissaries are talking to MPs across the board.