President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday played Gen. Fonseka`s game, as it were he chose to keep the electorate and his opponents in suspense. Contrary to expectations in Opposition circles that he would announce a snap presidential election, he only asked his party members at the SLFP`s 19th Convention which election they wanted first Presidential or Parliamentary. They all said with one voice that they preferred a presidential election. President Rajapaksa undertook to refer their choice to the party`s decision making body, saying there was ample time.
The message President Rajapaksa conveyed to the Opposition was that he was not in a hurry to hold elections. A seasoned politician who achieved the unthinkable feat of antagonising Chandrika and surviving her wrath, he knows timing is of crucial import in making political decisions. Thus, he effectively defused the Opposition build-up and prevented the JVP and the UNP from making most of the so-called Fonseka magic. Earlier the Opposition expected the President to refuse to accept Gen. Fonseka`s letter of resignation so that it could make an issue of it and take to the streets against what it would have called the abuse of executive powers to deny Fonseka his legitimate right to retire and engage in politics . The President pre-empted that move by grabbing the resignation letter and retiring the general posthaste.
The JVP, expecting the announcement of a presidential election, had made grand preparations for a media event yesterday to invite Gen. Fonseka to throw his hat into the ring in style. It was in for disappointment. Rathu Sahodarayas did not know Mahinda Aiya!
Gen. Fonseka is in an unenviable position today, he is neither the Chief of Defence Staff nor the common presidential candidate of the Opposition. He should have known better than to do as the wily JVP says. Politics is a different ball game, where even great men and women get outfoxed by scoundrels! The outfit has earned notoriety for clinging on to anything that dangles, sari potas, sarongs, saatakas and boot straps, whenever it gets into political mires of its making.
Worse, Gen. Fonseka`s bete noire, former Navy Commander Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, whom he adroitly ousted from active service by grabbing the CDS post, which Karannagoda was to get instead of retirement, is tipped to be appointed CDS.
What if the President does not advance the presidential election and opts for parliamentary polls in April? In such an eventuality, the JVP and the UNP will have to part company sooner or later and fight it out. However, since they say Gen. Fonseka is their common presidential candidate, they will have to assign him to play some role at that crucial election. What would it be? Which party would want to be led by him in the parliamentary race? Or, would he be asked to lie low for the time being and come forward later as the common presidential candidate of the Opposition? That is also not going to work as the JVP is bound to lose almost all its seats it secured in 2004 by contesting on the UPFA ticket, at the next general election and be relegated to the political wilderness. It will be reduced to a political IDP!
It is doubtful whether the present UNP leaders will involve Gen. Fonseka in a parliamentary election campaign, get overshadowed and dwarfed by him and, in the process, strengthen the hands of the ginger group all out to get a new leader.
President Rajapaksa has the strongest trump card by virtue of holding the executive presidency with control over Parliament. And on Sunday he proved he was capable of taking the wind out of the Opposition`s sails. He declared war on waste and corruption and the underworld. On a very positive note, he promised to construct the first oil well next year and to produce oil in the near future. These matters go down well with the electorate unlike issues like the abolition of the Executive Presidency. Similarly, demining has been stepped up and IDPs are being resettled at a rate. Once the resettlement drive is complete, there will be little or no foreign pressure on this country, unless the West manages to conjure up a different spectre. The US and the EU will have to abandon their war crime witch hunt against Sri Lanka as the main Opposition including human rights activists like Democratic People`s Front leader Mano Ganeshan, who was one of the bitterest critics of the war and vehemently protested against human rights violations, have accepted former Army Commander and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Fonseka as their common presidential candidate! Their acceptance of Fonseka amounts to a vote of confidence in him as well as the military he led. Thus, they have given the lie to the international community`s war crime charges.
While the Opposition is conducting a negative campaign based on a single issue digging the political grave for a single person from Medamulana President Rajapaksa is in a position to get his act together. If he could honour the promises he made on Sunday, his detractors who are all out to engineer his downfall will have their work cut out.
Now, for his own sake, President Rajapaksa has had to put his house in order at long last. He had better begin by curtailing government expenditure, battling corruption, eliminating the underworld, demilitarising the society, depoliticising the public service, restoring human rights and the rule of law and ushering in development. Most of all, he must chain the ruling party mad monkeys unleashing hell all round. This is, no doubt, a tall order for the President, but he will have to prove that he is equal to the task.