Sarath Fonseka – A Change Agent?
One cannot deny some contemporary realities in Sri Lanka today and pretend we are all Ostriches with our heads in the sand. Neither the President nor his ministers nor his members of Parliament should think there are millions of Ostriches in Sri Lanka; neither should they think they are Ostriches. It will be a great pity if they do that, as this President, more than any of his predecessor leaders of Sri Lanka has done so much to uplift the economic and social well being of his countrymen and women.
Besides freeing the country from the stranglehold of terrorism and separatism after 30 years of terror and war, the President has guided the country to rise from those shackles and to restore its pride and dignity. Weaknesses there are in the President, as he is only a human being. However to focus on these and not on his strengths and to forget his achievements would be a tragedy and an expression of ungratefulness not befitting the culture, history and the psyche of Sri Lankans.
Neither the President nor the government should take the people for granted. One should remember that Winston Churchill lost his election to become Prime Minister of Britain soon after leading and winning World War II. Unthinkable event at the time, but it did happen. It is also a fact that he won on his second try.
Although there will be denials, and calls to “prove” human rights violations, limitation on press freedom, lack of law and order, intrusions into the freedom of the judiciary, political interference, and corruption, there is a pervading sense that these exist in the country. The fact that some political thugs roam free while innocent people who have no political connections are at the mercy of such thugs does not help the government.
The government at times seem to be mindful of these realities but the strategies they appear to be adopting to counter these gives one the impression that the solution has been to focus on a segment of society that is least impacted by this pervading culture, and who are more likely to continue voting for the government, namely the rural population. It is no secret that the President and the government draws its strength primarily from the rural sector as all previous SLFP led governments have done.
It would have been foolish not to have kept this constituency happy as the political power currency, the votes, comes from this sector.
However, there is no doubt that the rural sector needs attention and improvement as they have been neglected by and large by many previous leaders perhaps with the exception of President Ranasinghe Premadasa. So, one cannot and should not allow skepticism to take the better of what is right. Uplifting the rural sector therefore is a must irrespective of what political benefits it brings to any leader or a government.
In this respect it would be unfair to not to mention the attention give to the urban sector by this government, as they have indeed given tremendous attention. However, this segment, which probably has more wage earners within the middle and lower middle class and who are more impacted by the rise in cost of living, do not seem to have had sufficient redress to mitigate the very high cost of living. When nincompoop ministers tell these people that they can live on Rs 2500/= per month as a family, it ingratiates and angers, and insults these struggling people, leading them to look at the failures of the government rather than their strengths and achievements.
Everyone appreciates the freedom they have now. They value the lead taken by the President to win the war. They do however have to find enough money for their families to feed them, cloth them and educate them. Many are finding it very difficult to find this money, and some have resorted to ways and means of supplementing their limited income with extra earnings, some of which is found through bribes and as payment for favours.
Their argument is that if everybody above them and below them is doing it, why not they join the band wagon at least to find enough money to survive, and not to educate their children abroad, or buy two cars or go for a holiday to Disneyland?
The desire to be in power, to make sure one’s favourites and those who bring in enough votes even if they are thugs or drug dealers, are safeguarded from legal or lawful harm, and to make sure there is enough and more money in the war chest to fight elections which are very costly affairs now in most countries, those in power often resort to measures that gives an indication that whatever that is being done is within the law. This is done by changing provisions of the law through Parliaments, or by making sure those who interpret the law are beholden to political leaders by granting them attractive favours. We are fortunate this has not happened in Sri Lanka.
It is a fact that we have not had a strong Opposition in Sri Lanka for some time to point out the errors of the government. President Rajapkasa himself has lamented this as he cannot, single handedly, guard against all evils and know every wrong that is happening in the country.
Although by no means a bride in white dress, Sarath Fonseka may have a vital role to play in uniting the Opposition to make it an effective deterrent to any excesses or wrong doings on the part of any member of the government. Although opposed to the President, he could play a vital role in helping the President to govern as a just and fair President and also help in changing the attitudes and thinking of the people who have become too accepting of what is wrong and unjust.
Mr Fonseka’s statements that he would wish to change the political culture of the island nation and that he was determined to join forces with opposition parties even if the terms of his release prevented him from standing for office should be considered positively. He has said he could educate the people, could talk to people and have meetings and bring about a cultural change in attitudes and behavior. His desire he has said is to bring about this change and educate the people about what is right, what is wrong, what the country needs and what has happened to them.
Sarath Fonseka’s ambitions walk far ahead of him. He is the shadow of his ambitions, so his disingenuity when he says he has no Presidential ambitions is like being a coy prostitute. They don’t exist. However, Sarath Fonseka will be the centre of Opposition forces and he will lead them against the government. What is important for the President and the government is to listen to the message and not the messenger as he will be articulating messages from people who have no way of conveying them to the President or the government.
The President in particular has to listen carefully and synthesise what is being said and importantly anticipate what is going to be said and neutralize whatever negative effects the message may carry by being pro active rather than being reactive.
He and the government has nothing to concern themselves if they think genuinely there is no corruption amongst the politicians and generally within all strata of the society, law and order has not deteriorated, there is absolute legal independence, human rights are not being violated and there are no white vans, and that the high cost of living and the difficulties some people face on a daily basis is only an Opposition canard; then the messenger as well as the message can be ignored. However, if there is an element of truth in what is being said, then the government will ignore the message at their peril.
In a recent interview, the editor of the Asian Tribune, a person close to the President, Mr K T Rajasingham gave a cautionary word of advice to the President. He said the President’s one weakness was his inability to deal with his friends. This advice should be well headed by the President as it would be unwise to be surrounded by people who are constantly telling you what you would like to hear. In this respect he should be advised to listen to what Mr Fonseka has to say as the anchor of the Opposition in Sri Lanka.
- Asian Tribune -