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Tuesday, 18 September 2018
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Sarath, your crumpled uniform needs to be ironed! PDF Print E-mail

by Malinda Seneviratne
I am not a big fan of uniforms. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I don’t like uniformed people. I owe such people a lot, in fact we all do. They do and have done a job that requires the kind of courage, discipline and nationalist fervour that few can claim to have. On the other hand, I do get a bit disturbed when people confuse, deliberately or otherwise, the spheres defined by job contract with those that are not associated with vocation. A soldier is a soldier and is required to soldier on when in uniform, when on duty or in camp; outside, he is civilian.

About a month ago I wrote in praise of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s decision to retire. I considered equally praiseworthy a statement made by General Sarath Fonseka at the point of his retirement. He said that he will take his uniform out the moment he goes home, will be a 100% civilian and will dedicate the rest of his life to serving the people in his capacity as a civilian.

I find it incongruous then that Sarath Fonseka continues to wear his Army uniform and flash his medals in the paraphernalia and iconography of his campaign. Does it mean he finds the transition from soldier to civilian difficult? Does it mean that he is going to remain ‘military’ in all his doings in the event he wins? What is the message that he is giving the electorate? He needs to come clear. His uniform is crushed, politically speaking, and he needs to iron it out if he wants to cut any ice with the people.

Actually the matter of image is less disturbing and less damaging to Sarath Fonseka than the substance of his campaign (or lack thereof). His ‘uniform’ looks quite crumpled in a metaphoric sense as well. There are too many unanswered questions. There are serious contradictions in the rhetoric spouted by his key backers and spokespersons. There is too much venom, hatred and revenge-intent in what he says and very little on what he wants to do and how he will do it.

‘Change’ is a good campaign theme and is a good pick for a fresh face. But we know what happened to Sarah Palin, McCain’s running mate against Barack Obama. Fresh faces arouse curiosity in the first rush, but their fate rests less on novelty than on the substance they bring on to the table and of course believability. Fonseka’s ‘freshness’ card has now reached expiry date. He needs to get to the nitty-gritty.

As of now Fonseka’s is a one-slogan campaign: ‘I will abolish the executive presidency’. Of course there are the other campaign frills such as eliminating corruption, bringing in discipline, raising salaries etc., but Fonseka’s credentials on the matter of ability, moral authority and even a semblance of ‘strategy’ remains pretty thin.

Let’s get to the creases of the Fonseka campaign, in the hope that this man, a national hero, does what it necessary to stop himself slipping to zero and emerge as a person capable of giving a decent fight.

Since he has focused on the executive presidency, let him iron out the following questions. He said he will abolish the executive presidency. How? He says then that he doesn’t want to be a ceremonial president. That’s a direct contradiction. He needs to come clear. Ranil Wickremesinghe says that if Fonseka wins, he (Ranil) will become the executive prime minister. Neither Wickremesinghe nor Fonseka have outlined the modalities of post-election sharing/shifting executive powers. Into this political confusion jumps in the JVP, claiming there will be no executive post-election. That kind of statement is what one expects from a Grade 11 Political Science student who is heading for straight Fs. Be that as it may it is a direct contradiction of Wickremesinghe’s position and serves only to crumple Fonseka’s uniform further. We haven’t seen Fonseka looking for an iron yet. Instead in the meantime we have LTTE heavyweight Lalkantha chipping in saying that the former Chief Justice, Sarath N Silva would be the executive PM in a future government.

None of these worthies have dared talk about the two-thirds majority required to change the constitution. They don’t talk about the modalities. Why not? They have remained mum on the issue of political stability and the need to avoid situations where governments elected are necessarily (as per constitutional reality) weak. A situation where there is no executive presidency would require a strong cabinet as an alternative but that is something this constitutional will not concede given the PR system. Abolishing the executive presidency or pruning relevant powers will necessitate a shift to a different electoral system. Now throw in the fact that such a scenario would amount to the political end of the JVP and what do we have but a bunch of opportunists who will say any old thing to capture power. Fonseka must do better than this.

Then there is the ‘small matter’ of the economy. Fonseka has deferred to the UNP vision. That would mean, by default of course, ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’. Why don’t Tilvin Silva, Somawansa, Anura Kumara, Vijitha, Lalkantha and Handunnetti say anything about the economic proposals/plans of Sarath Fonseka?

Fonseka can and should comment on the ills of the Rajapaksa regime. On the other hand, if he is to present himself as an ‘alternative’, an option that is more real and less cosmetic than Sarah Palin, he has to come out stronger on substance, what he wants to do, how he is going to do it and he has to address the issue of internal contradictions. Unless of course he just wants power and will use and abuse and dump everyone who helps him, the JVP and UNP included. Yes, I forgot, Sarath Silva too.
There’s a lot of political ironing to do. Fonseka has enough time. He should start soon, for later maybe too late. He has also started mud-slinging. He can expect mud in return. He must accept that some of it will stick. And he has to understand that not everything that is slung is mud. His past will haunt him in ways that Rakapaksa’s past will not because it is known. That’s the plus of incumbency and the other-side of ‘freshness’. I strongly advice the purchase of a good, reliable, reputed and effective iron, Mr. Fonseka.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
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