We have been urging the government and Opposition propagandists to desist from hurling wild allegations at presidential candidates, especially President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka and to present lists of specific charges, if any, and have a public debate on them so that the discerning electors could make an informed decision on Jan. 26.
Last Friday, we thought we would have an opportunity to view such a debate, when Swarnavahini telecast a live discussion on a serious charge the government has been levelling against Fonseka that he blatantly abused his position as the army commander to enable his son-in-law to do business with the army through a company called Hicorp. Addressing the media last November, Fonseka said, in answer to a question raised by a journalist, that the company concerned had only supplied a few CC cameras to the army. Last week in Parliament, JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake claimed that Hicorp had not even supplied an eraser to the army!
However, millions of viewers who found themselves glued to Swarnavahini on Friday night hoping that they would be able to get to the bottom of the Hicorp controversy were in for a huge disappointment. Although two persons each had been invited from the government and the UNF-JVP-TNA combine backing Fonseka`s candidature, there were only three debaters instead of four NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa and Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne representing the government and UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekera from the other side. Jayasekera left the studio claiming that he was not prepared to debate with two persons! The government duo renewed their challenge and called it a day. Swarnavahini insisted that it had invited two debaters from the Fonseka camp as well and the government team alleged that the Opposition had sought to sabotage the debate.
We should watch the unfolding Hicorp drama with an open mind because the government`s allegations have yet to be substantiated fully and Fonseka`s version of the story is not known. But, since the government says it is confident that it could prove the charges and challenges the Opposition to defend Fonseka, it behoves the UNF and the JVP to rise to the occasion and try to clear their common candidate`s name. For, Fonseka is campaigning on an anti-corruption and anti-nepotism platform and he must be like Caesar`s wife above suspicion! The government has targeted the main pillar of Fonseka`s campaign and any move by the Opposition, which may be described as an attempt to avoid the Hicorp issue, will damage Fonseka s image irreparably.
After all, the JVP put up a fight in Parliament for Fonseka last week, when the government tabled some documents on the alleged Hicorp deal. The JVP is not short of seasoned debaters of the calibre of Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Vijitha Hearath, Tilvin Silva, Sunil Handunnetti et al who appear in TV debates almost daily. The same goes for the UNF. It, too, has a large number of TV debaters. So, the Fonseka camp ought to assign two of its best speakers to take on the government. The onus is on them to prove that their presidential candidate who has undertaken to rid the country of corruption and bring about good governance has an unblemished character. Intriguingly, for some reason, our pugnacious Rathu Sahodarayas, who have gone into rhapsodies over the common candidate, seem to be wary of defending Fonseka on the Hicorp issue in public. Why?
Now that the government has craftily tabled the Hicorp allegations and `supporting` documents in Parliament, they are already in the public domain and technically there is no way they can be prevented from being publicised and debated with or without UNF-JVP participation. The Fonseka camp has no alternative but to stop blowing hot and cold and grasp the nettle. Its feeble and half-hearted attempts to counter the Hicorp charges have caused the issue to assume the proportions of a scandal, if the sheer number of people who eagerly awaited the Hicorp debate, which was not to be, last Friday is any indication. Their disappointment, we believe, will only ratchet up their desire to follow it up.
Meanwhile, it is hoped that the Fonseka camp, too, will specify the charges of corruption they are floating against President Rajapaksa and the government and call for a public debate.
The time is running out and the people are waiting!