Sri Lankan presidential candidate of the common opposition Gen. Sarath Fonseka waves to his supporters after filing his nomination, in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

I was astonished recently to find a strong conviction in Colombo that General Sarath Fonseka’s Presidential candidacy had been encouraged, or even initiated, by foreign forces. But perhaps my surprise was misplaced. Apart from a general tendency to see foreign interference everywhere, we have to remember the built in need of his principal supporters to convince their basic vote bank to go along with the current stratagem.

 To put it more simply, many diehard UNP supporters are flummoxed at the decision to field a candidate who was assiduously mocked by their more Westernized leadership in the previous three years. Some still hope that this is a brilliant stratagem of their leader to engineer a three cornered contest, but others will not even consider the possibility that this is an even more brilliant stratagem to preserve for himself the party leadership. So as to suspend their disbelief therefore, it is necessary for those pushing the General’s candidacy to suggest that the plan was prepared in those unnamed Western capitals that inspire devotion in certain Colombo hearts and minds.

 Some of these minds are blinkered, deliberately or otherwise, as with the distinguished intellectual who told me that even a broomstick would be voted for, provided it were green (though not it seems Sarath Fonseka, obviously neither a broomstick nor green). But most claim more balance, and therefore it would take much to get them to go along with the counter-intuitive proposition that Fonseka is the chosen candidate of the West.

 The West one would imagine is not blinkered. It knows the General’s previous history, and that pluralism is not his strong point. The argument then is that he is simply a caretaker, committed to abolishing the Executive Presidency and paving the way for a green broomstick. Given his personality however, that is extremely unlikely. And in any case it does not make sense for the West to rely on a Parliamentary system in which the majority they wish to command includes the JVP.

 If the General wins then, what they can expect, as he has made clear in both versions of his valedictory letter, are a larger army, longer confinement of the displaced in the camps (while the security checking and the demining, both of which he thinks have not been done carefully, are laboriously fulfilled) and stringent security arrangements in the North.

 This is not the Western recipe for peace and prosperity. The argument then goes that they do not really think he can win. Apart from the few who have been convinced by their interlocutors in Colombo’s social whirl that the General is incredibly popular nationwide, the majority believe that he will lose but that his candidacy has at least sparked off a resurgence of the opposition. The JVP, which would have been lucky to get a single seat had a General Election been held a couple of months back, will now swing in on the General’s coat-tails and command a seat in perhaps each District they contest.

 But could the West have waded in to support the JVP? That also seems unlikely. Rather, the argument is that they do not mind such collateral damage, provided the UNP is not decimated, as might otherwise have been feared, or else taken over by more nationalistic elements, as could have occurred if Ranil Wickremesinghe lost his third Presidential election in a row.

 But is the price that has been paid worthwhile? The JVP is a forceful influence and, while President Rajapakse proved himself able to control them, Ranil Wickremesinghe is more malleable, as the LTTE found when they managed to turn every element of the Ceasefire Agreement to their advantage. While more Westernized elements will be able to control the campaign in Colombo, once it moves out to rural areas there will be increasing adherence to what are presented as more popular, or populist, agendas. And the predilections of the General himself cannot be discounted, as he proved when he discarded the charming letter of resignation his backers had prepared, and stuck firmly to his guns about the need for greater security as far as the displaced persons of the North were concerned.

 Perhaps then the West is blinkered. But one would assume that by now they would have learned from the Taleban (‘The Sunni are good guys, Joe, just like Christians, not fundamentalist but like born again types, defending their god and ours against these godless Commies’) or even Idi Amin (‘Splendid chap, likes nothing better than getting into a kilt and strutting around, no problem controlling him, Carruthers’). So, even if hope does spring eternal in the human breast, the chances are that it is not the West being gullible, but rather those who are doing their best to convince both the West and the westernized of Colombo that their best bet is the General.

 In all this one can only hope that the General is not himself being gulled. Certainly the manner in which he was said to have uttered wildly incriminating allegations against the security forces, in an interview with two journalists of the green broomstick variety, suggests how careful he needs to be.

 If, in addition to his own ambitions or resentment or idealism or whatever, he was also convinced to contest by assurances that the West was with him, he needs to consider whether he is not just a decoy to change the dynamics of the parliamentary election that will follow. And perhaps even more seriously, he must wonder whether, in order to consolidate that dynamic and swing it in the right direction, a Westernized UNP rather than a nationalistic JVP, he might not be disposed of summarily once there was no further use for him.