With one day to go for one of the most intensely fought Sri Lankan presidential elections, the opposition backing the candidature of commander-turned-politician Sarath Fonseka on Sunday charged President Mahinda Rajapaksa with preparing the stage for a coup to prevent peaceful transition of power.
However, the government was quick to denounce the allegation as a sure sign that the opposition has lost the game even before it has been played.
At a hurriedly-convened news conference in the campaign office of General (retired) Fonseka here, United National Party leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe said, “In the face of inevitable defeat Mr. Rajapaksa has made plans to thwart the popular will of the people but we are determined to counter such moves. We would take to streets if the government decides to rig the will of the people.”
He said the President had discussed the plans at the Special Security Council, deployed 15 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) and ordered the Air Force to take charge of the only international civilian airport, in the event of his defeat.
Mr. Wickremsinghe said they had also appealed to police and security forces not to carry out any “illegal” order. “We have to be ready now to protect our franchise. We are making counter plans. We will get on to the streets if necessary.”
Given the high stakes involved for all the major players in the election, the acrimonious nature of the exchanges between the two sides so far were taken as part of the heat generated by the campaign. However, observers here are surprised at the latest assertion from the Fonseka camp.
General Fonseka said armoured fighting vehicles had been brought to the capital from the former war zone in the North. Key military commanders who could not be counted on by Mr. Rajapaksa had been moved out. He reiterated that 90 per cent of the military and police were with him and they would not carry out any illegal orders.
Approached for his response, Lakshman Hullugulle, Director-General of Media Centre for National Security (MCNS), said “There is absolutely no truth in the charges levelled by the Opposition. It is absurd to talk about coup by a President who is certain of victory.”
In another development, Chandrika Kumaratunga, former President and member of Mr. Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) announced her support to the retired General. Ms. Kumaratunga, who has differences with Mr. Rajapaksa, met the common opposition candidate and endorsed his bid.
“I took the decision to end four years of silence, as I am deeply concerned about the violence, intimidation and corruption,” Ms. Kumaratunga told reporters and urged her supporters to vote for General Fonseka.