Politics after Fonseka
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has called a snap presidential election for January 2010. And General Sarath Fonseka, the commander-in-chief of the Sri Lankan armed forces responsible for delivering a decisive victory to the country over the LTTE and who resigned from the army, will be pitted against him. Fonseka perhaps hopes to ape Caesar, at least in that part of his career when the Roman was elected with a landslide to consulship. But Caesar started his career as a politician, not as a soldier, while Fonseka, a career soldier will be pitted against a wily career politician, Rajapakse, who too has been hailed as the saviour of the nation. The entry of Fonseka has two positive and two negative effects on Sri Lankan democracy.
First, his proposed candidacy for presidency is a sign that democracy (whether one chooses to call the Sri Lankan variant procedural, illiberal or ethnic) has not died in Sri Lanka. The reports emanating from the island in recent months were depressing accounts of discoveries of mass graves, white vans whisking off anybody who dared to question the government's policies, particularly towards the minorities, the incarceration of some 200,000 Tamils in camps, and disappearances and murders of activists and journalists brave enough to speak out. The general's recent speeches and resignation letter, which criticised the president for failing to deliver the peace dividend, increasing economic hardships, waste and corruption, and curtailing media freedom, and failing to take care of the problems of the war-displaced persons, have borne some dividends. On November 21, the president directed the authorities to resettle the 136,328 war-displaced persons in camps by January 31, 2010, and directed that the monetary relief to the displaced persons be doubled to Rs 50,000.
Second, Fonseka's candidacy has brought the fractured opposition together in a concerted alliance to oust Rajapakse. A functioning democracy needs an opposition, which has been woefully absent in the last two years. The general is being supported by a diverse set including the UNP, the Marxist ethno-nationalist JVP, and some Tamil and Muslim parties. However, the general's penchant for speaking his mind (he called Tamil Nadu politicians "a bunch of jokers"), his intolerance of criticism and the allegations against him of human rights abuses against Tamils could make the opposition's solidarity a short-lived one.
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