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Reflections on Presidential Elections


2019-10-26 7722

(Victor Ivan)

The 2010 Presidential Election was a royal battle fought between two war heroes, followed by the ending of the internal civil war. In this election, President Mahinda Rajapaksa who gave the political leadership to the war was able to defeat General Sarath Fonseka who had given the military leadership to the war. In the 2015 presidential election, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated not by an equally powerful leader, but by a small man from Polonnaruwa.

The internal Civil War had produced three major war heroes. They are Mahinda Rajapaksa, General Sarath Fonseka and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, respectively. General Fonseka was defeated by Mahinda Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated by Maithripala Sirisena. It is Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the third hero who has become the candidate of the presidential election, 2019.

By the end of the internal civil war, the vulgarity of the atmosphere created by violent conflicts persisted for nearly 30 years had reduced the State and the social system to the maximum degeneration and decay.My reading of this situation was that in the absence of a far reaching vision for the ruling party of Sri Lanka to arrest this situation, restore and recreate the degenerated State and the social system, would inevitably plunge the country into a serious state of anarchy. Not only did I comment on it at the time, orally and in writing, but also wrote and published a book about it in 2011.

I knew that General Sarath Fonseka could be a prospective contestant for Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2015 Presidential election long before his name was announced. I was curious to know how President Mahinda Rajapaksa thought about it. “What would happen if General Fonseka happens to be your opposition candidate at the next presidential election,” I asked the president on an occasion when the President spoke to me over the phone.

Although my question was of interest to the President, he did not believe that General Fonseka would contest against him. “Every wednesday, the Chiefs of the three Armed Forces and their wives used to have lunch with me; if they have grievances, they can tell me. If they can’t tell me they can tell Shiranthi. I have accorded the three Commanders a great honour and recognition; they are invited to every banquet given to the Heads of States visiting Sri Lanka,” and having said that the president concluded his comment stating that “I do not believe that Sarath Fonseka will do that”.

A few days later, the President called me again over the phone. As I recall, he started the conversation with the remark "you're amazing." After my information, the President had asked Gotabaya and the Heads of intelligence services as to whether Sarath Fonseka would contest against him. None of them were aware that Sarath Fonseka was going to contest. The President had called me only after getting it clarified that General Fonseka had decided to contest. “Gota does not know that Sarath Fonseka was going to contest. Even the intelligence services don’t know, but Victor Ivan knows,” he said ending the conversation.

I did not want the conversation to end there. I posed another question that intrigued me, to the President. A Commander in Chief of the Army who is in service can contest an election only if his request meets with the approval of the President, the Commander-in-Chief of all three armed forces. I asked the President whether he would grant him the approval to contest. “Yes, I approve of it; may God take care of me if he wins; and if I win, it will be the same for him, God will have to take care of him” was his immediate reply. I must say that I was impressed by his greatness to decide to allow Sarath Fonseka to contest despite the risks posed to him.

2010 Presidential Election

General Fonseka played an important role in the victory of the internal civil war. I have a great respect for him for that. But I did not see it a wise move for him to enter into the hot ground of political battlefield and contest the presidential election soon after leaving the battlefield of war.A military mind is necessary for military service, but a ruler should have a civilian, not a military disposition. My view was that if a person like General Fonseka was to be the leader of the country, it would have to be after engaging in civic politics for some time. I made my point public and my calculation was that Mahinda Rajapaksa will have an easy victory in the contest between the two. I made my point publicly. My calculation was that Mahinda Rajapaksa will have an easy victory in the contest between the two, contrary to popular belief that prevailed in the country.

If the UNP did not contest the 2010 presidential election and paved the way for Mahinda Rajapaksa, the leader who won the war to return uncontested, it would have been in the best interest of the country as well as for the UNP. In view of the height of his popularity he had gained in the immediate aftermath of the military victory of the internal civil war, the UNP did not have real potential for defeating President Mahinda Rajapaksa at that moment. Taking cognisance of this situation and also as a mark of honour for the victory of war, if Mahinda Rajapaksa had been allowed to win the Presidential Election uncontested without fielding a candidate from the UNP to contest the Election, the UNP could have demanded Mahinda Rajapaksa to initiate political reforms that were necessary for the country in the aftermath of the ending of the war.

If that happened, the UNP could have prevented the drastic collapse of its vote base and preserved its position as a strong parliamentary group. Furthermore, if it happened that way, perhaps Mahinda may have had to bring about political reforms that the opposition is demanding and prevented the relationship between the opposition and the government becoming antagonistic.The end result of such an eventuality would have been a creation of a mild regime rather than a repressive one and containment of the massive increase in the electoral base of President Mahinda Rajapakse.

I indicated this idea to the UNP leader after the 2010 presidential election, in a conversation I had with him, which was attended by Tissa Attanayake also.Ranil Wickremesinghe listened carefully to the views expressed by me. “We didn't think that far,”was his reply.

Taking revenge from Fonseka

Usually, I do not keep myself awake in the night to listen to the election results. On the day of the presidential election 2010, I went to bed early and woke up early in the morning to listen to the election results. Around 5.00 am, I phoned Karu Jayasuriya to get his opinion on the outcome. Instead, I heard a different story from him that surprised me. Karu Jayasuriya said that the security forces had surrounded the hotel where General Fonseka was staying. Karu Jayasuriya informed me that most of the people who stayed there at night had already left the place, and he had stayed there as he could not leave him alone. I asked him whether he had spoken to the President about the situation. His response was that he did not speak to the President as this could not happen without President knowing it. Then I spoke to a few others and learned more about the situation.

I got a phone call to Kanchana Ratwatte around 7.00 am as I thought it would be difficult to contact the President over the phone on that day. Surprisingly, Kanchana was with the President at the time. He said he would give his phone to the president. I told the President that “it is not the landslide election victory of yours but the arrest of your rival candidate that had made the headline in foreign media.The President was not pleased with my comment and he said various things to justify the move. He said that General Fonseka had telephoned the Chiefs of the Security Forces on the night of the Election Day and threatened them; and also there had been a plan to arrest him if he had won the election. However, he asked me to inform Fonseka that he can leave the hotel.

Although General Fonseka was not arrested that day, he was later arrested and tortured to the maximum. If General Fonseka had won the presidential election, I felt that he too, would have followed a stern policy similar to that or even worse in regard to President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Gotabaya Rajapaksa can be described as the only person who has wielded a power which was second only to the power of the President from the period of 2005, the first victory of President Mahinda Rajapaksa upto 2015, the year of his defeat.

According to the book titled“Gota’s War, written by C.A .Chandraprema, it was in April 1971, Gotabaya had joined the Sri Lanka Army as a cadet officer. In May 1972, after completing military training, he became a second lieutenant in the Army.When Brigadier Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Colonel Wijaya Wimalaratne served as Commanders of the two brigades in the battle of Vadamarachchi, Gotabaya had served as the Commander of Colonel Wimalaratne's brigade.Thereafter, he worked as the Security Coordinator of the Army of Matale district during the JVP's second insurrection.He retired from the military service after serving as a Lieutenant Colonel at a time when the government security forces suffered serious losses in its war with the LTTE.While working as an IT administrator at Mount Royal Law College in California, Gota returned to Sri Lanka on three months leave to assist his brother who contested for the presidential election in 2005.Immediately after Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed the President, Gotabaya was appointed the Defence Secretary.

White side and black side

At that time the security forces were in a helpless state. The frequent defeats on the battlefield had disrupted their morale; there was a serious lack of adequate manpower and weapons.Gotabaya should be credited for changing this scenario and enhancing the morale of the security forces to pursue a successful war.

Gotabaya had a colourful side; in addition he had a darker side as well. When he had great control over security, there occurred terrible and ugly things in the country. I am not talking about the violent events that occurred on the battlefield during the war. But there were a number of horrific incidents, such as killing of innocent people who had nothing to do with the war, abduction and disappearance and brutally assaulting of some selected individuals.

These include the following. (1) the abduction and killing of Dharamaratne Sivaram alias Taraki, a journalist at the High Security Zone of Colombo (28 April 2005), (2) Killing of five students on the Trincomalee coast while they were having a conversation (2 January 2006), (3) the assassination of Thyagarajah Ravi Raj MP,TNA in high security zone of Colombo (10 November 2006), (4) brutal attack on Keith Noir, a journalist of the Nation Newspaper (May 22, 2008), (5) Attack on Sirasa Rupavahini (7 January 2009), (6) The assassination of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge (7 January 2009), (7) Abduction and assaulting the journalist Poddala Jayantha ( 24 January 2010), (8) Abduction and disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda (24 January 2010)), (9) disappearance of Lalith Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan, two frontline Student Activists of Peratugami Party, (10) Abusing Fredericka Jansz in foul language and threatening her when she telephoned the Defence Secretary over the issue of dispatching a passenger aircraft without passengers to fetch a pet dog from Switzerland.

Poddala and Frederica

Poddala Jayantha was abducted and brutally assaulted at a time while there was a meeting being held between a team of representatives of the Free Media Movement and the President regarding the threats and intimidations posed to him.This meeting had been convened at the request of Poddala himself. It was I who intervened in arranging the discussion with the president.

While we were discussing the issue of Poddala Jayantha with the President, Minister Dallas Alahapperuma informed the President that he had been abducted. Upon hearing this, the President was not only upset but also angry. We could discern from the body language of President that there were things happening without his control.

Frederica told me the whole story when the Defence Secretary threatened her with obscene language. On the day or the day after this ugly incident ,and even before the dark clouds of it had passed, Bandula Jayasekera (now working on Sirasa TV) , the President's Media Secretary spoke to me by telephone and invited me to attend a dinner hosted at Temple Trees, for a selected group of newspaper editors. I said, I was unable to attend because it was a dinner hosted following an ugly incident.

Shortly after that, Bandula spoke to me again. He said that he had told the President what I had told him, and the President wants me to attend it without fail so that the issue can be discussed at the dinner. I said I would attend the occasion.

Dinner

I went to the basement of the Temple Trees and sat on a chair; little later Gota came and sat on a chair next to me. Even after going upstairs, he sat in the seat next to me. In addition to the President, Sinha Ratnatunga, editor, the Sunday Times, Prabath Sahabandu, editor, The Island, Champika Liyanarachchi, editor, Daily Mirror, Siri Ranasinghe, editor, Lankadeepa and Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President and Bandula Jayasekara President’s Media Secretary were also present.

When the party commenced, the president picked a glass of wine. Instead of having a strong drink I too, picked up a glass of wine. My selection of drink appeared to be a problem for the President. “Victor, you normally take strong drinks and not wine, isn’t it?” he asked me so that others could hear it. In reply, I quipped that “I drink wine when I need to remain sober.

While everybody was engaged in a futile conversation, having a drink, I asked the President, the purpose of inviting us here as newspaper editors, to be present at the dinner. The President asked me to say what I had to say. I told him that your brother had abused a newspaper editor in obscene language and threatened her when she had inquired him about some issue; and where had he derived such powers from? Having said that I made my comments on it. Gotabaya's face turned dark, but he remained silent. In the middle of my speech, he left the place and returned a short time later and sat next to me. When Gota left, I overheard the President telling the editor, Daily Mirror that Gota was at fault.

Little later, we all sat for the dinner.I had a quick meal before the others had finished their meal and said to everyone: “Nobody except me had spoken about the issue pertained to the Defence Secretary. Perhaps, it is because I was here. Therefore, I am leaving providing space for you to have a conversation without me.Having said that, in an unconventional way, I said goodbye to the president and everyone else, and left the place.

During the attacks made on Muslims at Aluthgama in June 2014, I wrote an article about it titled – “Gotabayage Shewanalla” (the “Shadow of Gotabaya”). I wrote this article because I believed that Gotabaya had a connection to the ugly and horrible things that happened there. In both cases, I am sure, Gota was not happy about me. But I must say that I was not threatened by him, directly or indirectly.

I am not saying that he is responsible for all the crimes that had been committed during Gotabaya's time. But, I am of the view that he is responsible, directly or indirectly for the crimes listed above which seem to have a political side. They cannot be regarded as acts committed on the needs of the security personnel.

I am of the view that it is not proper for a person with such serious allegations to be elected the leader of the country, even nominally until he is fully acquitted and exonerated of those charges. It is also not right for a person with such allegations to contest for such a position.

 

 

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