Presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka could not have asked for better news on Wednesday as he arrived at the eastern coastal town of Trincomalee, some 260 km from Colombo, to address his first election rally in this ancient centre for Tamil culture. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), an umbrella group of Tamil parties with 22 members in parliament had formally announced that it would support Fonseka in the January 26 Presidential election.
The TNA had several rounds of talks with the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa's party as well as with Fonseka but finally decided to support the latter. According to reports from Colombo, the TNA chief, R Sampanthan, an MP from Trincomalee, told a press conference in Colombo that Fonseka understood the need for an acceptable solution to the Tamil issue far better than Rajapaksa.
``He also noted that Fonseka was not in the military anymore and so the TNA was not supporting a “military official” for the Presidency,'' the Daily Mirror online reported. It, however, remains to be seen whether TNA remains united in its support as strong anti-Fonseka currents continue to simmer within.
So, even if he was terribly happy, Fonseka did not show it as he stood up to address the gathering at a play ground in the centre of town with busy streets around it and the Bay of Bengal behind it. He arrived at the venue more than two hours late but the largely Tamil and Muslim crowd patiently waited to hear him as a political colleague translated in Tamil what Fonseka said in Sinhalese. Tamils and Mulsims add up to more than 70 per cent of the population in the region.
Fonseka invoked former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as the perfect example of how as the political leader of the country, she did not take credit for the victory in the 1971 Bangladesh war and instead attributed it to the military. The Indian chief of army staff Sam Manekshaw was made Field Marshall, Fonseka said, adding that after the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, he was made an inconsequential chief of defence staff.
Fonseka said Indira Gandhi did not plaster New Delhi with her own photographs and posters after the victory like the way Rajapaksa has done to claim credit for defeating the LTTE.
People seemed guarded in their response to the retired general's rhetoric indicating they were yet to decide on whom to support. As an accountant pointed out that it was the same Fonseka who not very long ago had said that minorities should not make demands. ``It is precisely because we are minorities, we need to decide very carefully,'' the accountant said.