Hours before the close of the official campaign for the crucial January 26 Sri Lanka Presidential election, the common opposition consensus candidate and retired Army Chief Sarath Fonseka accused the incumbent President and his chief opponent in the polls Mahinda Rajapaksa of getting ready to rig the polls.
Claiming that he was far ahead of Mr. Rajapaksa, who is seeking a second endorsement for his office two years ahead of his first tenure, the retired General asserted that he would emerge victorious in the election. “I began this campaign with no political background and today I am confident that overwhelming majority of the people are with me. We know for a fact that 90 per cent of the votes in the postal vote are in our favour”, he maintained.
The main opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party (UNP), the ultra-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) leader, Somawansa Amarasinghe and chief of Democratic People’s Front (DPF), Mano Ganesan present on the occasion declared that they would take to streets if the Rajapaksa Government attempted to rig the election.
In contrast to the aggressive tone in the opposition camp, Mr. Rajapaksa in his last day election rallies invited every one to join him in his vision to build the irrespective of party politics and promised launch a new development phase in the country after January 27 with the people who love the country.
A report by Mr. Rajapaksa’s campaign office quoted him as saying at a rally in Matara that he will not allow another terror era to raise its head again in the country and cautioned people about the rumors being spread by elements with vested interests.
“He said that everyone should unite to build the country irrespective of party politics. The President invited everyone to join for this purpose from January 27. The President made this observation while addressing a massive public rally at the Sanath Jayasuriya Stadium in Matara. Actress Malini Fonseka, Cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya and people’s representatives also addressed the rally”, a report posted on the Government Department of Information web site said.
A general sense of unease prevails in the island nation three days ahead of what has been billed one of the most exciting and crucial election in the post-independent history of Sri Lanka. The rise in political temperature was not unexpected as the high stakes are involved for all the key players in one of the most important elections in the post-independent and post-Prabakaran Sri Lanka.
The fight is mainly between Mr. Rajapaksa and Gen. (retd) Fonseka. Till the entry of the retired General into politics in late October, re-election of Mr. Rajapaksa was considered a foregone conclusion. Both Mr. Rajapaksa and Gen. (retd) Fonseka, regarded as `war heroes’ are expected by conventional wisdom to split the 75 per cent majority Sinhalese vote.
Hence, much to the dislike of the minorities in general and Tamils in particular all attention is on who they would prefer to see in the Presidential chair. Tamils account for 12.5 per cent of the 21 million population and 14 million voters in the country. There are 11,000 polling booths across the length and breadth of the country to enable the voters choose their sixth President.
As it could be expected in any electoral do or die battle for both the sides, charges have been flying high and thick. Notwithstanding the apprehensions of large scale violence and preparations for electoral malpractices, it would not be easy for any party to indulge in brazen violations for two reasons. Firstly, the poll has generated unprecedented interest among the people and the voter turn-out is expected to be high.
Second, there is presence of 40 foreign election observers. At a news conference here on Friday they said they would monitor the elections in all districts including the Northern and Eastern provinces where LTTE was militarily defeated by the security forces in May 2009 after 34 months of continuous war.
The monitors said they would deploy their members in every district but due to the distance they would not be able to visit all the polling booths. They promised to closely monitor the election violence, but they would not be responsible for enforcing law and order. A report of the election observers would be released on January 28.
As per a local NGO monitoring the campaign so far over 800 election-related incidents of violence including five deaths had been reported since the election was declared late November. Earlier this week the United Nations (UN) Secretary- General Banki-Moon and the European Union (EU) voiced concerns over what they termed as `growing violence’ in the run up to the crucial poll.
After a bomb exploded targeting a campaign manager of Fonseka Government said, ‘Perpetrators of previous incidents are being brought to justice and those involved in this latest cowardly act will face the full force of the law.
“We are wholly committed to ensuring a free, peaceful and democratic election in every part of our country. These isolated incidents will not be allowed to affect this goal. Instructions have been given to the authorities to bolster security at sensitive locations and all political events up to and on polling day to ensure that all Sri Lankans can participate safely in the electoral process”.
At his interaction with the media, convened at a short notice, the commander turned politician maintained that in the last few days at the behest of the President, Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the Army Chief Jagath Jayasurya there have a spate of transfer of senior officers in the military particularly in the north and there were complaints of forged poll cards.
Asked about the viability of the broad coalition of parties with divert ideologies behind him, the retired General argued that it would prove to be coherent as they were agreed on basic principles like abolition of Executive Presidency, establishment of rule of law and eradication of corruption.
On his vision for resolution of the ethnic conflict, he said that all citizens including Tamils would be accorded equal rights and would work with the help of all parties to bring about fundamental changes in the Constitution. “The 13th Amendment of the Constitution brought about after the Indo-Lanka 1987 Accord was made under different circumstances. We have to go beyond the spirit of the 13th Amendment while ensuring the unity and integrity of the island nation”, he said.
In response to a question on the December 13 controversial interview to a Sunday English weekly, in which he had charged the Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary and brother of President of issuing orders to a key local commander to shoot at the LTTE leaders who had come waving white flags with the intention to surrender to the military, Fonseka said, “I never gave the interview. I only spoke to the Editor concerned over the phone”.
Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in his brief comments said that since the former General is committed to abolition of Executive Presidency and work closely with the Parliament, Sri Lanka under the leadership of Fonseka could look forward to a bright future. “There is a new chemistry among political parties in the country and Fonseka as President would augur well for the welfare of the people of Sri Lanka”.
The outcome of the contest, mainly a fight between President Rajapaksa and is being watched keenly within and outside the island nation for a number of reasons. It is the first such mass democratic exercise in the post-Prabakaran Sri Lanka and much is at stake for all stakeholders in the three decade old ethnic conflict which has eluded a solution.