Is Sri Lanka Crazy Enough to Elect a Retired General as President?
By Dr. Stephen Long
Dec 1, 2009
I was very fortunate to have been in Sri Lanka during the final days of the military war against the LTTE. Like all of us, I was relieved that the terrorist violence, replete with its deranged suicide bombers, was finally over. Also like all of us, I looked forward to the day when the Government could get its act together and establish a unified country and a prolonged period of peace. I had faith in the conciliatory words of the President, and believed that this would be accomplished within a short time. My faith is still in tact.
Six months after this great event I am compelled to write another article (I swore I would never write another one) about recent political developments, which I feel threaten your hard-won peace, and undermine the democracy as we know it in your beautiful island country.
The idea that the people of Sri Lanka would even think to consider voting for a retired army general for President is so ludicrous that I would laugh if it wasn't so dangerous. The well-documented differences, both real and imagined, between Gen. Sarath Fonseka and President Mahinda Rajapaksa are nothing more than the result of a clashing of powerful egos. Both sides want to take credit for winning the war; both sides have been emotionally wounded by the words and actions of the other; and both sides fear losing face with the people. Are these good enough reasons for dismantling the entire system and putting your fragile peace in jeopardy? Is defending his honor a good enough reason for the General to run against President Rajapaksa and risk disrupting the enormous economic and social progress that has been made during the past six months?
Let's take a moment to acknowledge the General's triumphant victory, while we properly share it with the Air Force and Navy Commanders who were under the direction of the President. How could we take away the credit that is due to these distinguished individuals? For General Fonseka to claim all of the victory for himself would be false, if not laughable. For him to deny sharing the credit would be ridiculous.
Back to my point: Can't the Sri Lankan people learn from history? Retired generals and war heroes rarely make good presidents. Look at what has happened in Burma since its independence from the British. A corrupt junta of generals still remains in vicious control. There are no human rights, no freedom of the press, no-anything that resembles a free country. How many years has the eloquent, dissident voice of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi been silenced?
Also examine closely the biography of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th US president, and a highly-acclaimed hero of the American War Between the States. The Grant presidency is today remembered for its corruption, and the many scandals that occurred during the regime that nearly wrecked the fragile US economy, which was still recovering from years of Civil War. Grant's presidency was rocked by scandal after scandal - read about them and be horrified. There are countless examples throughout history - in nearly every country - of great generals becoming unbelievably bad presidents; there is no need to recount them here. Sri Lanka, please take note.
I know that one of General Fonseka's stated reasons for running for president is to put an end to corruption. Pu-lease… Have any of you read Mr. Rajasingham's article in the Asian Tribune about Fonseka's son-in-law in Oklahoma and his illegal, illicit, even criminal profiteering on Sri Lanka's war against the LTTE? Some estimate that this young man, Danuna Tilakaratne, made a commission of two cents for each bullet fired by the Government forces during the terrorist war, and that many of his deals were with scurrilous international arms traders that are currently being investigated (nice Buddhist - trafficking in deadly weapons - Right Livelihood?). Danuna forged documents, changed names on company registrations, used shady arms dealers, and made millions under the protection of his father in law: the same Gen. Fonseka who wants to rid the country of corruption. I feel, like many others, that this son-in-law incident is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg in regards to Fonseka's corruption with lucrative military contracts under his control. We'll see how it pans out.
By the way, I was also told by a very high-level source that Fonseka's daughter (at least one of them) and his son-in-law were also on salary from the Sri Lankan Government until just a month ago - while they were living in Oklahoma! The Government must have been totally asleep at the switch not to have caught this much earlier. If they knew about it, then shame on them for turning the other way and allowing it to continue as long as it did. Think about it, Sri Lankan people: are you sure you want to turn over your country's presidency to someone this tainted with corruption? What do you expect will change by making him the most powerful man in your land?
There are many reasons not to elect General Fonseka to the Presidency. After forty years in the army, and the last three years fighting the latest war against the LTTE, do you think he might just possibly be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome? Nearly every American and allied soldier, who has returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, officer and enlisted man alike, has been affected by this illness - why should General Fonseka be any different? I have a close friend in San Diego, a practicing attorney, who is a retired lieutenant-colonel in the US Marines. He returned from deployment in Iraq nearly four years ago and still wakes up with nightmares. Do you want to elect a President who is not quite psychologically fit enough for the job? Do you want him to encounter an intense PTSD episode in the middle of a heated confrontation with a hostile state? Believe me, it wouldn't be a pretty sight.
General Fonseka is also known for his unwillingness to take no for an answer - and for punishing those who disobey him. I have a friend in Colombo who told me about an army major serving under General Fonseka. His name is Lakshman Palipane. For a long period of time he was a favorite of the General, and he was oftentimes given preferential treatment for his loyalty. When Fonseka asked Lakshman to get him two young ladies for an evening's entertainment he refused on moral grounds. The General, in his pique, fired his former friendly subordinate, and Lakshman took him to court and won the case. Unfortunately, the Government took no action to get him restored to his former post, and the matter was brushed under the rug. Lakshman's military career was permanently ended.
The Ministry of Defence's attitude at the time was that they needed Fonseka to win the war - so they refrained from taking any action that might rock his boat. Shame on you GOSL: for not defending a loyal soldier against the tirade of his superior officer, a miffed child-of-a general with a bruised ego. He can win a war - don't you think he could handle taking what he dishes out? The esteemed General is well-known for his severe punishment, and has made many enemies among his former staff during his long tenure in command; hence his need for extra security personnel. By the way, why did the Defence Ministry allow him to extend his mandatory age of retirement so he could stay in uniform until he was 64? They didn't want to rock his boat, that's why.
Another reason to not elect the General is because he is clearly being used as a puppet by UNP leader, Ranil Wickramasinghe, a nasty cretin if there ever was one, with a track record to prove it. I often teach my favorite English idioms to one of my Sri Lankan friends, and we joke about their meanings and origins. He recently taught me a Sri Lankan idiom, which I think is very appropriate in this case: it's about using a cat to get jackfruit seeds from a fire; the cat gets burned while the handler remains unscathed (sounds familiar?). Don't you think Ranil is using the General as his cat? Isn't this obvious to anyone in your blessed country? Just think of the ramifications if the General acts like Ranil's cat while serving as president! Just yesterday the General declared that he preferred the UNP system of economics. Why did he use the UNP name - and not simply the word "capitalism"? How could the General possibly be the "common candidate" when ideologically the JVP supports the nationalism of corporations - and when Ranil once said that if he ever came to power he would issue a warrant for the arrest of JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe?
Lastly, it has come to my attention that Bruce Fein (I'm not going to go into who this loathesome creature is here - as I've done this in many articles over the past two years) and his lot of LTTE front organization spokespeople, are indicating that they prefer a Fonseka win over President Rajapaksa. Why do you think this is so? They only want to undermine the stability of the country with prolonged political strife so they can continue to prosecute Gothabaya and carve out a section of your island for the Tamils. Come on - wake up! I also learned that General Fonseka met with former US Ambassador Robert Blake at least twenty times - and we know that Bob Blake is guilty as sin of favoring the LTTE over the GOSL. He's the one who recently met with Bruce Fein and others from Tamils Against Genocide, among other Tamil LTTE fronts, in Washington DC. No question which side of the fence Mr. Blake sits on. So why should the General and the former ambassador be so close?
Further regarding the LTTE, the icing on the cake comes from the brilliant General's blunder-of-the-year statement yesterday when he said that he would accept campaign money from Prabhakaran's parents and other LTTE supporters - making him look like a candidate for president of LTTE front organizations instead of the Presidency of Sri Lanka. At the same press conference he told reporters that he was inexperienced in regards to the country's economy and many other areas of government, so please limit your number of questions. Duh! Do any of you really plan on giving this joker your vote?
Before I close, here's perhaps another similarity between President U. S. Grant and General Sarath Fonseka. Even though President Grant did a lot for the protection of African-Americans during and after the Civil War, on December 17, 1862 during the Vicksburg Campaign in Mississippi, the then General Grant issued "General Order No. 11," which permanently put a "blot on Grant's reputation." This Order declared that: "The Jews, as a class, violating every regulation of trade establishment by the Treasure Department, and also Department orders, are hereby expelled from the Department." How's that for anti-Semitic racism?
When General Fonseka declared (and I paraphrase) that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese Buddhist country, and that it belongs to the Sinhalese Buddhist people, I think he raised a huge red flag (even though he later said he didn't mean this, I don't believe him for a minute). This man is a Sinhalese racist, and he has no intention of bringing the Tamil people - and the other groups - into the mainstream of island society. Do the Sri Lankan people want to see another Pol Pot-like leader emerge that would seek to cleanse the island for the sake of Sinhalese ethnic purity? I know it sounds far-fetched, but please watch out.
In conclusion, as the title of this article indicates, it would be absolutely crazy for the people of Sri Lanka to elect General Sarath Fonseka as President in the upcoming election in January - or at any time in the near or far-distant future. Please give President Mahinda Rajapaksa a chance to prove his mettle and keep his word about stabilizing the country and ensuring long-lasting peace and harmony among the diverse populations of the country. Yes, he, too, faces corruption issues. Let's hope he handles them in time to get re-elected, and then works hard to clean up his own house. I personally think he can do it.