Unlike most of his counterparts, new politician, General Sarath Fonseka was right on time for his maiden press conference at a posh Colombo hotel on Sunday. Fonseka formally announced at the packed conference that he was in the running for the Presidential polls on January 26.
``This is a special event. I am ready to answer questions you have been asking me day and night. Can I do it? I can do it. Will I win it? I will win,’’ Fonseka said announcing his candidature for President.
Fonseka said he was the common candidate of the opposition but added that he was yet to decide the name of the party under which he would file his nomination. The ‘swan’ would be this symbol.
The candidature of Fonseka, who has done four training courses in India and loves Indian movies and music, has livened up the political arena in Sri Lanka. A coalition of opposition parties, led by the main opposition party, the United National Party, has decided to support him against Rajapaksa
Both Rajapaksa and Fonseka he are seen as two important architects of the victory against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Rajapaksa gave the political impetus to the battle against the LTTE which successive governments since 1983 had failed to do. And Fonseka remained in the middle of the fight for decades. While army chief, he was seriously injured when an apparently pregnant LTTE suicide cadre blew herself up inside the army headquarters in April, 2006. Fonseka survived after battling with death for three months in a Singapore hospital.
Soon after, the general vowed that he ``will not hand over the war against the Tigers to the next army commander.’’ He also told the media in 2008 that Tiger chief V Prabhakaran will not make the customary heroes day speech on November 27, 2009.
On Sunday, he was making new promises. He promised that he would be a ``leader to re-establish democracy to end the family rule of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’’. He promised to abolish executive presidency from Sri Lanka, saying it was the root of all evils.
On his controversial remarks to a section of the media in 2008 that Sri Lanka belonged to Sinhalese, Fonseka claimed he was misquoted and maintained any solution to the ethnic conflict should be acceptable to all stake holders. ``The majority should take care of the rights of the minorities.’’
The poker-faced former chief of defence staff (CDS), Fonseka first spoke in Sinhala, then in English and took a range of questions on his reasons for joining politics and his ideological platform and his relations with India.
He remained, probably deliberately, vague on political issues. Especially on the 13th Amendment to the Lankan Constitution introduced after the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord. The Amendment dealt with devolution of powers to regions with an aim to give some amount of regional autonomy to Tamil-dominated areas in the north and east of the country. ``The amendment was done 20 years ago under certain circumstances. The situation is different,’’ he said indicating that it needed a re-look in the current context.
The general was quick to respond when asked about his relationship with India, saying if he does not answer that, it could well become an issue.
“And they (India) are the closest neighbour and powerful neighbour. So we have to obviously have 100 per cent or thousand per cent best relationship with India”, Fonseka said.
“If somebody says okay I worked in China or Pakistan…to get military equipment to fight the war”, he said. “But those countries helped us in the military equipment but the Indian government morally and politically helped us to win the war”, Fonseka said.
“The relationship with India has always been at the highest. Even in future I like to maintain the best of relationship”, Fonseka said.
At the end of the 90-odd minute interaction, it was clear that the first four-star general of Sri Lanka might have shed his uniform earlier this month after 40 years of service but clearly he was not ready to let go the discipline of military life. But he also knows that it would take more than just discipline to make an impact against Rajapaksa. Punctuality is good but whether Fonseka’s sense of political timing is equally good remains to be seen.