Amid growing debate on the merits of Chief of Defence Staff Sarath Fonseka entering the presidential race, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said there is no question of the government permitting any person in uniform entering politics.
In a lengthy interview to The Island published on Saturday, Mr. Rajapaksa (younger brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa) lashed out at a section of political leaders who have been openly talking about supposed differences between the President and General Fonseka, who as Army chief led Eelam War IV.
Responding to allegations of attempts to sideline General Fonseka and to deny him the credit he deserved for spearheading the war against the LTTE, the Defence Sectary told the paper that a group of bankrupt politicians were now working overtime to destabilise the country.
“This is nothing but a despicable plot being hatched at the expense of the entire country,” he said.
In recent days, a number of senior opposition leaders and a section of the media have been publicly debating the possibility of General Fonseka shedding his uniform and entering politics.
The talk assumes significance as the date for the general election due by April and a possible presidential election before it are to be announced by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a convention of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) on November 15.
The Leader of the Opposition and head of the United National Party (UNP), Ranil Wickremesinghe, had said there was nothing wrong in the media reporting a military officer going to contest the presidential election.
Mr. Wickremesinghe’s remarks came on the same day General Fonseka told a gathering at a Sri Lankan Buddhist Temple in Washington D.C. that although there were those attempting to take credit for the victory against the LTTE, it was only the troops on the ground who really knew who deserved the praise. General Fonseka is currently on a private tour to the U.S. and is expected to return in the next few days.
Majority of the opposition parties are of view that given the popularity of General Fonseka as a war hero, he is an ideal consensus candidate to take on Mr. Rajapaksa.
The Defence Secretary told The Island that while there was nothing wrong in military personnel entering politics, it was definitely not on as long they were in uniform.
He said their triumph over the LTTE had been the result of a joint effort spearheaded by the Army. He said one of the most important decisions taken by the government had been to double the strength of the Army while bolstering the ranks of the Navy, the Air Force, the police, STF and Civil Defence Force.
He further argued that unlike the previous moves by the opposition to weaken an elected government, this was an attempt to sow dissension among the country’s battle-hardened armed forces.
“Those who play politics with national security in a post-LTTE era will incur the wrath of gods and voters at the forthcoming elections,” he told the paper.
An irate Defence Secretary rejected the opposition allegation that General Fonseka had been ill-treated by the government: “Let me tell you that General Fonseka was appointed as CDS with his consent. Although, I haven’t discussed this issue publicly before, I have no option but to reveal what really transpired.”
He charged the opposition with making a desperate bid to challenge the President whose popularity was at its zenith and asserted that the government was fully confident of meeting the threat and taking whatever action necessary to ensure peace and stability in the country.
Meanwhile, Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe said the government would resettle the remaining 1.85 lakh internally displaced people by January 31, next year.