Announcing conditional support of his party to the bid of commander-turned-politician, retired General Sarath Fonseka for the office of President, Democratic Peoples Front (DPF) leader Mano Ganeshan disclosed at a news conference here on Thursday afternoon that the 18-party United National Front (UNF) led by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe could soon sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the General outlining the common agenda.
So far the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has the support of four Tamil parties in his bid to run for a second term — the Ceylon Workers' Congress, the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal and the Eelam People's Democratic Party.
The leader of the DPF, among the 18 parties that have come together with the explicit objective of ‘overthrowing’ the Rajapaksa regime and the abolition of the executive presidency, said the UNF would expect the former Army Chief to implement the agenda if he is elected in the January 26 election against the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mr. Ganeshan said the Front would also expect the General to dismiss the government led by Prime Minister, Ratnasiri Wickremenayake, dissolve Parliament and conduct general elections due by April under an all party care-taker government.
Asked as to who would be the Prime Minister in the care-taker government, Mr. Ganeshan said, “A decision would be taken on the basis of consultations among all the constituents of the UNF.”
Model akin to India
Mr. Ganeshan said politically speaking, once elected, the UNF candidate Gen. (retd) Fonseka would be an ‘interim President’ as he, along with all members of the Front as well as the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) are committed to the abolition of the executive presidency and switch over to a model akin to India.
The DFP leader said that besides abolition of the executive presidency, the UNF has secured commitment from the prematurely retired Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to re-activate the 17th Amendment which deals with appointments of independent commissions to oversee appointments of high posts in the executive and judiciary including the Election Commission.
“We believe the time has come for all the like minded parties and individuals to come together and ensure defeat of this anti-people regime. We appeal to the Tamils in the 17 districts outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces to vote in favour the common opposition Presidential candidate Gen. (retd) Sarath Fonseka,” Mr. Ganeshan said in his introductory remarks.
Negotiating with TNA
The Colombo parliamentarian said his party was negotiating with the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to persuade the voters in the provinces of the north and east to pitch for the former Army Chief. “A decision on the outcome of our talks with the TNA would be announced before the date for the filing of the presidential nominations on December 17,” he said.
Asked if the decision of his party to cast its lot with Gen. Fonseka meant abandoning the idea of a third contender in the form of a consensus Tamil candidate, Mr. Ganeshan replied in the negative. “We do not know yet what the TNA would do. Ideally, we would like them to support the position taken by the UNF. In case the TNA decides to field a candidate of its own, we would urge them to tell the voters in the provinces of North and East to cast their second preference vote to Gen. Fonseka.”
Solution for ethnic issue
Mr. Ganeshan maintained that the opposition Presidential candidate has agreed to go beyond the 13th Amendment in his quest for a political solution to the ethnic issue and insisted that there was no contradiction in the position taken by the retired General, the UNF and the JVP.
“Though the UNF and the JVP are backing the candidature of Gen. (retd) Fonseka, there is no pact between the Front and the JVP. One can, at the most call it a tactical alliance. The differences between the Front and the JVP on a variety of subjects would not come in the way of Gen. (retd) Fonseka’s Presidential election,” he argued.
At his first media interaction on November 29 in response to a question on the 13th Constitutional Amendment, which came after the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord, pertaining to the devolution of powers to provinces the retired General had said that since it was the by-product of certain circumstances, the Amendment and issues related to it needed a re-look in the present context.
Gen. (retd) Fonseka seems to have deliberately kept his answer vague on the contentious subject as the two main opposition parties propping him up have diametrically opposite views on the subject.
The United National Party (UNP) led by former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe wants what is known as the 13th Amendment plus, meaningful full implementation of the provisions of the Amendment with further improvement in the powers to the provinces. However, the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) is totally opposed to the Amendment and wants it be scrapped on the ground that it has been imposed by India.
Barring the LTTE, most of the Tamil parties have been campaigning for full and faithful implementation of the 13th Amendment. Their grouse with successive governments in Colombo is that twenty years after it has become part of the Constitution, the Amendment is a dead letter in spirit.
President Rajapaksa is committed to implementation of the 13th Amendment and during his first term appointed a multi-ethnic experts committee along with the constitution of an All Parties Representative Committee (APRC) to give him recommendations to enable him forge a consensus among all parties for the resolution of the ethnic conflict.
Asked about the past controversial statements of Gen. (retd) Fonseka like Sri Lanka belonging to the majority Sinhalese community, the DNF leader said the Tamils in the island nation are ready to put the past behind them and move towards a brighter future.