After securing the support of the post-Prabakaran Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the common opposition presidential candidate, retired General Sarath Fonseka, on Thursday released a ten-point document under the title ‘Vishvasaneeya Venasak’ (Believable Change). The incumbent, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is seeking a second term two years ahead of his term, is expected to release his manifesto next week.
The retired General’s document spells out his vision for Sri Lanka in general terms and avoids any specific reference to the approach towards a political resolution of the ethnic conflict acceptable to all stake-holders.
The chapter dealing with economic issues is also dealt with in broad terms.
Observers here are of the view that the campaign managers of the opposition candidate have carefully avoided getting into specifics on all contentious issues, as, on most of the subjects, the main opposition the United National Party (UNP) and the ultra-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) hold diametrically opposite views.
Those present at the hour-long release function, included the Leader of the Opposition and head of the 17-party United National Front (UNF), Ranil Wickremesinghe, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna (JVP), Somawansa Amarasinghe, a former Foreign Affairs Minister and rebel Sri Lanka Freedom Party leader, Mangala Samaraweera, and the Western People’s Front Parliamentarian, Mano Ganesan. There was no representative from the TNA.
Besides Fonseka, leaders of several parties on the dais made brief speeches in Sinhala. In response to a request by a correspondent that the retired General speak briefly in English for the benefit of the international media contingent, Mr. Wickremesinghe said: “You would be given English copies of the document in a short while and we would not take any questions.”
Amid multi-religion chants, the retired General presented copies of the document to representatives of the various religions occupying the front row.
Today’s function had acquired importance in view of the latest developments, centered on the January 26 presidential election, after the TNA’s decision to go with the retired General.
Vote of Tamils and Muslims deciding factor
The contest is mainly between Mr. Rajapaksa and the commander-turned-politician. As both Mr. Rajapaksa and Gen. (retd) Fonseka represent the majority Sinhalese community and are credited for the successful military campaign against the Tigers, the vote of Tamils and Muslims could prove to be a deciding factor in the outcome of the presidential election. Therein lies the significance of the TNA’s decision to join hands with the rest of the opposition in their bid to oust Mr. Rajapaksa.
By all accounts, the approval of the General’s candidature by the TNA is not unanimous and some of the seniors are soon expected to come out against it in public. TNA, an alliance of militant turned political groups stitched together by the LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran in 2001, has had its share of problems after the military defeat of the LTTE in the Eelam War IV (July 2006 to May 2009).
Two among the ten points — dealing with ‘national security’ and ‘minorities’ — in the Fonseka document would be of special interest to Lanka watchers.
The ‘National Security’ chapter reads, “At the end of a war spanning three decades and at the threshold of living in a ‘safe and secure’ Sri Lanka, national security is of paramount importance to ensure personal, social, economic and political security. Our nation needs policies that are both contemporary and effective offering proper solutions that will protect our country’s economic, military, and political needs. We plan to protect our country’s territorial integrity, internal infrastructure in order to keep all our citizens safe and to harness the full potential of the people without let or hindrance.
• ensure each citizen is able to benefit from economic security, employment and freedom from want
• guarantee a totally independent judicial system where the people have faith and confidence that justice and fair play shall prevail
• create a state of the art, highly disciplined professional and committed Tri forces, Police and Civil Defence Force capable of safe-guarding the country and its citizens from external and internal threats
• boost naval and coast guard capabilities to thwart smuggling of humans, weapons, drugs and all other illegal activities that compromises national security
• uphold the rule of law and order and the public security of all citizens
• reorganise and restructure the Police Force so as to make it free of political interference, corruption, favouritism, and bribery
• create an environment conducive to build trust and confidence between the general public and the police
• safeguard the Constitution and the peoples’ democracy by ensuring political security
A government answerable to people through the parliament should be the principle. All steps will be taken to ensure national security, security of the people and economic security.”
The chapter on ‘Minorities’ begins with the strap line ‘I will be by your side like a shadow. I will be your strength and Inspiration’ and goes on to say,
• not tolerate any act of violence or discrimination against a person based on ethnicity, gender, religion, caste, creed, sexual orientation or disability. Such violence, threats and discrimination are in direct conflict with and contrary to the very principles and laws that govern our nation
• stand firm in our commitment to create a national identity, where we all stand together as Sri Lankans, with our differences, for that is what makes a nation vibrant. Being united with diversity is an opportunity to be stronger. Through this we get to see, listen to, learn from and appreciate ideals and actions that will in turn help us make a better future, for generations to come. We have wasted too much time tearing ourselves apart. It is now time to learn to live together and by doing so prosper, and make this nation great - as it was always intended to be.
• ensure the security and equal rights of all communities as guaranteed by the constitution.
We invite those who have left the country, especially the Tamil Diaspora to return. We guarantee their security and welcome all communities to assist in the new era about to dawn in Sri Lanka.”
With charges and counter-charges on alleged corruption and family rule of President Rajapaksa being traded freely, the chapter on ‘Bribery and Corruption’ would also be of interest.
It reads, “We will not tolerate any act of bribery or corruption. Our policies will raise awareness of bribery, its prevention and give guidance to both the reporting of suspected bribery and how the investigation of that report will proceed.
“We encourage the creation of citizens’ groups to scrutinise government spending at each level. Citizens should be able to ask questions on how their tax money is spent and that it is spent wisely.
“The current government has plundered public property with callous disregard and no action has been taken to prevent inducement and fraud by the present administration. Under the current Executive presidential system, the parliament has become an institution that is corrupt and that abets corruption.
“Currently our country faces issues such as:
• Lack of transparency
• Flawed laws and procedures
• Weak leadership
• Family and friends of the top officials being given favourable treatment such as government jobs, tenders, government loans and privileged information
• Having individuals favoured by the administration act as intermediaries for deals made by officials
• Power without accountability
• Lack of enforcement
“We believe if bribery and corruption are put to an end, the economy will be on its way to recovery.
• increase the transparency of governmental policies and procedures
• investigate corrupt deals made by government officials and hold people accountable for their actions
• instigate independent monitoring and pricing of federal transactions
• minimise political intervention in private affairs
• improve salaries and benefits”
'Sign of opportunistic politics'
Shortly after Gen (retd.) Fonseka released his election document, the Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe at a news conference asked the TNA leader to elaborate his statement that the Alliance chose to side with the General as it was not ‘satisfied’ with the performance of the President in general and resolution of the ethnic conflict in general.
“Here is a President who ended a 30 year-old war, eradicated one of the most ruthless terrorist outfits in the world, brought in a semblance of economic and political stability throughout the island nation and successfully secured the release of 2.8 lakh Tamil civilians being held hostage by the LTTE.
“Besides, he has shown commitment to re-integrate 11,000 ex-combatants into the mainstream, restore normalcy in the lives of Tamils and promised a political solution acceptable to all. The President has constituted an All Parties Representative Committee (APRC) to help him bring about consensus on an acceptable political solution to the ethnic question and as everyone knows, any solution would require amendments to the Constitution. Such amendments are possible only with two-thirds majority in Parliament and general elections are due by April 22. Mr. Sampanthan has to explain what he means when he says they are not satisfied with performance of President.”
The Minister said the conduct of the TNA leadership has given room to suspicion that it has arrived at a secret understanding with the retired General and is attempting to push through its agenda that the President refused to endorse.
Mr. Samarasinghe said that the promise made by the retired General to consider the TNA demand for dismantling High Security Zones in the east and north clearly was a sure sign of opportunistic politics and was detrimental to the interests of the country.
Meanwhile, a report posted on the presidential Secretariat web site said, “With the decision of TNA to enter in to a ‘conditional’ agreement with opposition Presidential candidate, political circles are agog with the question whether Fonseka has accepted the TNA condition that the north and east should be merged once again.”
Northern and Eastern Provinces, which were temporarily merged after the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord, were de-merged after the Sri Lanka Supreme Court in October 2006 ruled it as unconstitutional on the ground that the temporary merger and the yearly extensions by successive Presidents should have been routed through Parliament.