|Sarath Fonseka’s Second War|
So both the main opposition parties – the United National Party (UNP) and the Left Wing Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) - smelling a possible political opportunity in have called for the removal of restrictions imposed on Fonseka after his release. More voices are likely to be added to this as Fonseka has his own constituency outside the political spectrum; and this had helped him emerge as a common opposition candidate against President Rajapaksa in the last presidential poll.
President Rajapaksa used to have an uncanny sense of timing his political moves during his first term in office when the enemy was physical and tangible. After all, the LTTE had painted itself as the national enemy No. 1. But in recent times, his gut feeling appears to be letting him down. In this situation, what will be the impact of Fonseka on Rajapaksa’s future moves?
I have great deal of respect for the former Army Commander for his military competency. He gave form and content to what many Sri Lankans thought of as an impossible dream. As an old soldier I sympathise with him for his plight after working so hard for three decades for the country. Notwithstanding this, he has glaring short comings if he decides to take on President Rajapaksa once again.
With the amount of introspection during his prison days, I expect him to be aware of these. In his last political outing his performance was below par as the vote-count showed in the presidential poll. Before, during, and after the presidential contest, he came out as a novice in the ‘live and let die’ game politicians play all the time. His economic agenda was grandiose and vague, long on promises galore and not much on how he will go about it. His wooing of the Tamil votes came out as a measure of political expediency, as it contradicted his strong ‘Sinhala first’ credentials gathered over the earlier years.
During his army days, Fonseka was not good at winning friends; his ability to influence others came from his professional acumen rather than personality. So it is extremely doubtful if he can morph into a political leader of universal charisma who can galvanise all political elements opposed to Rajapaksa and lead them to success. His not so good performance even at the height of his national popularity in the presidential poll could discourage this from happening.
Politicians make friends only with winners; so as of now Fonseka’s political rehabilitation will depend upon their agenda and choosing. Both the UNP and JVP are mired in internal power struggle. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP leadership is constantly hounded at the heels and he has to keep an eye on his rear guard. The UNP leader has nothing much to gain by forming an alliance with the JVP which lost its fair-weather supporters after the electoral drubbing. It is also suffering from a strong bout of typical Marxist internal contradictions. Theoretically, even if they come together can they meaningfully pose a worthy opposition to Rajapaksa? I have my reservations.
However, if Fonseka gathers enough public support and sympathy, he may become a focus of convergence for an opposition alliance. And for it to happen there has to be a political a situation where the opposition can have a chance of success. Such a clear cut situation does not appear to be coming up in the horizon, except for a parliamentary or presidential election. And both of them are due only in 2016 unless the term of either is ended earlier or popular compulsions of the Arab Spring kind emerge.
It is safe to rule out an Arab Spring happening in Sri Lanka. Despite its aberrations in governance, President Rajapaksa’s government is politically stable as his party – the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) – has overall majority in parliament on its own steam. Despite this he has opted to rule the country with a 17-party coalition; this has provided enough space for all shades of opinion from the Right, Centre and Left parties to share power. This has minimised the chances of disparate elements coming together to start a mass movement against him.
That leaves economic chaos taking over the country as the only other potential destabiliser. Despite clocking 8 percent growth last year, Sri Lanka is in for tough times as global recession and rising oil prices are affecting most of the economies. Even Sri Lanka’s major trading partners China and India though less affected so far have started feeling its impact. With Sri Lanka’s Western clients and the U.S. already in an economic tailspin, the country is unlikely to escape the economic aftershock. So the future does not augur well for any government in Sri Lanka.