In a recent interview, Former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka who heads the Democratic Party spoke to Daily Mirror about the present political situation in the country, his party’s plan to win the upcoming Provincial Council elections and expressed his views about the UNHRC session taking place in Geneva.
He said that the main aim of his party was to save the citizens of Sri Lanka from the present rulers of the country.
Q: What do you mainly hope to achieve in the event the Democratic Party led by you wins the upcoming provincial council elections?
We have spelled out a plan which is not only limited to this particular election. Our party was created with the purpose of uplifting the welfare of the people of this country. The present political parties and the current political culture have failed to do that. The country was never really developed. They all gave a lot of promises but nothing materialised. The welfare of the people has declined throughout. Day by day, their problems are increasing. Life has become impossible for the people of the country. The economy has hit rock-bottom. Even having three meals a day is a problem for the majority of the citizens of our country. Unemployment is high. In addition, there is no justice in the country. Law enforcement agencies have been politicised and are unable to do their job. Likewise, nothing goes in the right direction.
So if the country has to develop and become civilised again, like it was in the past, we have to change the existing system and take the country forward on a new path.
Q:So how does your party plan to take the country on a new path?
First we have to save the country from the present dictatorial, tyrannical regime. After that we have to stop the corruption existing in the country. Corruption has caused a lot of damage to the country. It has become the order of the day. So our party will steadfastly act to wipe out rampant corruption. Our next priority is the re-establishment of the rule of law. We will ensure that laws are properly applied to each and every citizen without any bias or favouritism. We will also make sure that law enforcement institutions and personnel are able to do their jobs without any fear or favour.
Now politicians try to do everything with the sole purpose of earning as much money as possible and fulfilling their personal agendas. Their concern is not about the people or about the country. So we will give priority to the welfare of the country and the people, stop corruption and develop the economy.
Of course we cannot expect miracles at the very beginning; that is nonsense. These politicians are talking about ‘miracles’ just to take the people for a ride. They are not going anywhere in that direction. First, we have to make sure that the basic needs of the people are met. When the country develops, the lifestyle of the people should also improve along with their living standard.
Q: Do you believe that the Democratic Party can go solo or do you plan to join hands with any other political parties in the country?
No. If we join hands with other strong political parties, we will have to dance to their tune. Presently, we see that the strong parties are all alike. They have been ruling this country at one point or another but their conduct and behaviour has been almost the same. So we don’t foresee any possibility of joining hands with those parties because we want to build up and strengthen our party. For that purpose, we have to create our own identity and take the party to the people. Therefore joining with others for elections is not possible right now. But after elections, to form a government, we can always join with other parties in the Opposition.
However, we will definitely not join with the present government. The leader of the present government is the most corrupt. Therefore, we have ruled out joining this government. But we can work with other Opposition parties later. But for the elections, we will go on our own.
Q: And do you believe that your party stands a chance to win the elections, especially considering the fact that the candidates you are putting forward are not the most popular?
Well, what have the so-called popular candidates done for the country? If people think that other parties have popular candidates, they must realise that those are the same people who are responsible for ruining this country. That is why we selected new people. They don’t have to come with popularity but after they work with the people, people will come to know them. They would then become popular characters.
Q: It is widely believed that a presidential election will be held sooner than later. Do you believe that you are suitable to be the common candidate at such an election?
That is up to the Opposition parties to decide. If there is a better choice, they will all agree to that. However, when they select a person, he or she should at least fulfil one requirement. It has to be a person who has done some good for the country. Otherwise a lot of people will come with a lot of promises. But unless they have proven themselves in the past, we don’t know what they will do after they come to power.
Q: Considering the events that took place during the last presidential election, are you willing to contest again if you are requested to be the common candidate?
Yes, my task is to challenge the Rajapaksa regime. So if the situation arises, I will never back down. There is no reason for me to refuse such a request. Anyway I am determined to challenge the Rajapaksa regime and save the country from them.
Q: Most Opposition parties are rallying to abolish the Executive Presidency. If you win as common candidate, will this be on your agenda as well?
Last time when I contested as common candidate, we did not say outright that the Executive Presidency would be abolished. Instead, we agreed on a plan to remove the unnecessary powers which can be abused by the President. But I believe that even without a President, a Prime Minister can also abuse his or her powers and behave like a dictator, depending on his or her way of thinking. What is important is to do away with the undue powers given to the President which he or she can abuse and take the law into his or her hands.
The only advantage of having a President is that people are given the choice of selecting the leader of the country. Under a prime ministerial system, it is not the people but the parliament selects the Head of State. I personally feel that it is better to leave the choice up to the people. But certainly the additional powers given to the President as it is done now, should be removed.
Q: Recently, your media coordinator left office, alleging that you were a “dangerous man.” Do you have any comment about this incident?
Firstly, he was not the media coordinator or the media secretary or my spokesperson. He had no media responsibilities to carry out for the party. He was a man who was paid Rs. 25,000 per month to do some clerical and office work here. In addition to that, we have helped him financially in various instances. The responsibilities given to him included collecting our posters and informing the media about the time and the place of our media briefings. That is all that he was doing here. What happens is that, even if a peon in this place leaves, other political parties will welcome him, put him in the media spotlight and get him to talk all sorts of nonsense.
The truth is that he had taken a large amount of money from candidates, selling my name. We are talking about an uncorrupted system. Therefore, there can’t be any corrupt people inside my office.
Q: Some are of the opinion that an Army General cannot run a country and if such a person is elected he would run the country like running an army. What do you say to these speculations?
Well then, what about General Eisenhower? Likewise, there are many Generals who have run countries. In the USA, there have been four presidents who were Army Generals. They have all done a great service to their countries. I don’t understand why, if a library assistant can run a country, a General can’t run a country? When you are in charge of the army, you are not giving military commands the whole time. You are not always giving orders to shoot and fire and kill.
There are so many other responsibilities in administrative, management, accounting and human resource welfare aspects. An Army General has so much experience in such matters. The other thing is you cannot run a country like you would run an army. That is not practical.
Q: The UNHRC session in Geneva started this week. Do you wish to comment upon this matter?
This government is trying to use the Geneva session for their advantage to win the votes of the people at the forthcoming elections. They are saying that the UNHRC is trying to take them to the electric chair. That is all nonsense. If the UNHRC takes anyone to the electric chair, they will first take the Generals who fought in the forefront of the war.
Those are the people who are first and foremost responsible for everything that happened on the battlefields; not the politicians who is sitting in Colombo. So if there are war crimes allegations and somebody goes to the electric chair, it will be me because I commanded,
I planned, I monitored, I directed,
I supervised the battlefield activities and I gave orders. So then we have to start shouting about it much more than these people. But these people are trying to get the political advantage from this situation.
However, this whole episode started because, just two weeks after the war was over, the President of this country Mahinda Rajapaksa invited Ban ki-Moon, the General Secretary of the United Nations to this country and signed an agreement with him saying that he was going to conduct an investigation here to ensure accountability and also to inquire into the possibility of any war crimes.
That is why now the UN is forcing him to conduct the inquiry. He also appointed a truth and reconciliation commission, the president of which was his best friend and the right-hand man. Even the president of the commission recommended that there should be a process to probe into accountability issues. So who has initiated this whole saga? It is Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa who initiated it. Now he is shouting and trying to get the political advantage when the respective parties are trying to get an inquiry.
If there are allegations of war crimes against the army, I have said that I am ready to answer that anytime to anybody because I don’t agree that the army had committed any war crimes. I deny that. If somebody has a specific complain and any credible evidence, then we can always conduct an inquiry like we have done in the past. But you can’t baselessly blame the army.
Q: So do you believe that an international inquiry is necessary?
Regarding war crimes, it is not necessary. The country can do that on its own. But if the government is failing, the international community will not keep quiet. That is the problem.
Q: At this point, what do you believe should be the priorities of the government?
The government’s priorities should be to maintain the law and order in the country, dispensing justice for the people, establishing democracy and developing the economy of the country and the living standards of the people.
They should not cheat or mislead the people and they must take action to stop corruption. These are not my personal grievances. These are the grievances of the people. I am against anyone who is responsible for ruining the country and I cannot turn a blind-eye to it.
Q: Does any of your immediate family members wish to enter politics?
My wife has been active in my political movement as well as in her women’s movement. But so far she has no wish to contest elections. It all depends on what happens in the future.