I must confess to feeling some relief on Wednesday morning. Perhaps as a result of living in Colombo, and imbibing its pernicious predilections, I had worried about the result of the Presidential election. True, rational thought suggested one need not feel anxious. This was reinforced even by the details of a poll, commissioned I was told by international interventionists, on behalf of General Fonseka. This claimed he would win by a tiny margin but acknowledged that he would lose almost all districts in the south of the country, save for Colombo and its ilk. Given the unrealistic margins it predicted in those areas one should have felt confident.

But still, the manner in which the voters of this country have expressed themselves democratically (and also affirmed their determination that democracy should continue) is heartening, and a reason for pride. They have affirmed their faith in the future and in political principle. They have rejected ‘dysfunction and breakdown’, which dear old Dr Saravanamuttu declared had taken place in Sri Lanka even while everyone else acknowledged that the election was peaceful and orderly, and only a different result might have created chaos.

But the complete disjunction of the urban elite was apparent when, in a final effort to sway voters, they threw former President Chandrika Kumaratunga into the fray. Anyone with the slightest sense of the national pulse, or even an awareness of history, should have realized that this would be the final nail, assuming one was needed, in General Fonseka’s coffin.

He was already finding it difficult enough to reconcile the claims of all the Ghosts of Christmas Past who had flocked to his standard. Now, when the greatest of the Ghosts joined him, rattling her chains with unaccustomed enthusiasm, the atmosphere of naked opportunism was unmistakable.

But so was the stale smell of bitterness. Rancour, hatred, revenge, are never principles on which to build up a political alliance, even though we have to acknowledge that they have played their part in Sri Lanka previously too. But generally they are concealed, covered by a pretext of principle.

The principle on which the opposition had united with some plausibility was corruption. It could not have coalesced with regard to pluralism, given the previous pronouncements of its candidate, and indeed his opposition to swift resettlement of those who were in the Welfare Centres, which he gave as one of the reasons for his resignation. It could not have come together over opposition to regionalism that could lead to separatism, given the support for a preposterous ISGA for the merged North and East that both the UNP and the TNA had evinced in the dark old LTTE days. It could not be media freedom, given the treatment of poor Keith Noyahr, and indeed the continuing persecution of his editor, Lalith Alahakoon, by General Fonseka.

But corruption was an issue that clearly caused concern – as it has done with every government in the last three decades. Colombo has forgotten the ghastly things they said about President Premadasa, they have forgotten how even favoured UNP papers highlighted corruption by many government ministers during the 2002 – 2003 Wickremesinghe regime.

Those papers exempted Wickremesinghe himself, and certainly his philosophy was on the lines of that of his mentor President Jayewardene, namely that everyone should be corrupt except for himself, which obviously enhanced his personal control of the situation. But another reason for this was that Wickremesinghe, like Jayewardene, did not need to amass a personal fortune to pay for publicity at elections, since his party paid for him. This factor the President has understood, in tying to his pledge to control corruption in the future a determination to change the current electoral system, with its brutal dependence on preference votes.

But, given how short memories are, the cry of corruption seemed to strike a chord. Sadly for the General however, memories are not short enough to forget the allegations of corruption against President Kumaratunga launched by precisely those who had flocked to the General as though they were all knights in clean shining armour. The spectacle then of Ranil Wickremesinghe and Somawansa Amerasinghe and Sarath Silva joined by Chandrika Kumaratunga to support the General seemed a particularly bad joke, with Rauff Hakeem also hovering in the background to contribute his little mite too to the hysteria.

All this was on the surface. Extraordinarily, adding to the fuel was a former Presidential Secretary, whose family had been unashamedly involved in arms deals in the nineties. That involvement had been well known, as was the involvement of the family of President Jayewardene’s Secretary, and also family members of the Defence establishment during the Wickremesinghe government.

That was why I was particularly sad when there were allegations about the General, since that was a field in which this government has been a shining contrast, as was well known by army officers who for the first time had full confidence that purchases were designed only to improve their operational capacity. In such a context Wickremesinghe’s lame defence, that the allegations concerned not the General, but just his son-in-law, was a pitiful example of the sort of argument that had vitiated arms purchases in his time as well as in that of his uncle President Jayewardene.

But, forgetting recent aberrations, it was particularly ironic that a fortune made on arms purchases during President Kumaratunga’s tenure should have been put at the disposal of her new hero. Fortunately, not content with manoeuvers behind the scenes, she decided to get into the fray herself, and thus made crystal clear the sheer hypocrisy of the whole enterprise.

If General Fonseka ever engages in a post-mortem on the firmness with which the Sri Lankan people have brought him down to earth, he will doubtless think of the intrigues of Mr Sambandan, the incompatibility of the UNP and JVP positions on war crimes charges, the disastrous antics of his deserters. But let him also spare a thought for President Kumaratunga, who could not resist yet another bite at the cherry she squeezed dry over so many years.

Advertisements