Fonseka takes up the fight

Friday, 12 April 2013 02:18 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Leader of the newly-registered Democratic Party and former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka claims the current regime is cheating and robbing money from Government funds. Fonseka adds that if he had done the same he would also be living the same life they are living. Fonseka asserts that his civic rights were deprived only because the President was scared to meet him face-to-face in the political field. “I challenge him. If he has even half an inch of backbone, he should be able to give me my civic rights and fight me in the political field face-to-face,” he asserted.

Following are excerpts of an interview:

Q: How does your party differ from the existing political parties in the country?

A: In the past there were genuine politicians like Senanayake and Bandaranaike who worked towards the betterment of the country. After that era the politicians became corrupt and today politicians only work towards their own welfare rather than doing anything for the country. Today corruption has become the order of the day.

Citizens in this country as a whole have not gained anything. Our country has been going backward. The person who rules this country never had this kind of money with him when he came to power. He was never rich like this. From where are they getting this money? Have they maintained accounts? Have they shown the Bribery Commission or the Inland Revenue Department how they have been collecting the money?

When I say I want to change this system, I talk about clean politics. In the West there is pure democracy, people are not intimidated and they enjoy human rights. People in those countries are not controlled by thugs or criminals. Politicians in those countries don’t threaten or manhandle the people. Politicians don’t frame bogus charges on innocent people and put them in the jail. But our politicians are doing all these things. That’s the order of the day here.

We don’t want to have a system where the ruling party runs the country with the help of thugs and corrupt people as equally corrupt as them. By hook or crook they come to power giving false promises. And when they come into power they try to collect as much money as possible during the tenure. The rest are shamelessly waiting to come into power to do the same thing. They are openly saying that ‘we want to come to power to do something for our people’. Who are these ‘our people’? They don’t mean the 20 million people in the country. We don’t want to continue that culture. We want to build a system where all 20 million people will benefit. We want to create a country where people do not have to go behind politicians or get close to politicians to get their work done.

Why should I create a new party if I am going to do the same thing the present politicians are doing? I can join one of the existing parties. I can join the Government. They will welcome me, I am sure. When I was leaving Mahinda Rajapaksa told me, ‘anybody who leaves me can come back to me at anytime’. But I told him that I will never come back to him, because I am different to others. I told him not to judge me by the standards of the catchers around him.

The main political party in the Opposition is equally bad. They are waiting for their term. 90% of the politicians in the United National Party are corrupt. They do all their businesses with the assistance of the people in the Government.

Q: If the UNP is corrupt, why did you contest as their common candidate at the last presidential election?

If I came to power I would have stopped that. On the stage I said that I would bring in a different culture. In front of them I said that I would not tolerate their corruption. I said that if I came to power I would not hesitate to punish even the ministers if they were corrupt in a Government formed by us.

Q: Isn’t this the slogan of all Opposition parties – that they will restore democracy and there will be freedom under their regime? But once they get into power, they too become equally corrupt. What is the assurance you can give things will not be the same?

The assurance is that they can judge me from my history. They know who I am. They know what I have been doing before I came into politics. They know whether I have kept my word. They tried to frame charges against me and put me in jail. If I was robbing, I also would have been living the same life like them; enough wealth, enough property and living in Colombo 7. I had enough time to do all that if I had the same psychology. If I didn’t do it for the last 60 years, why should I do it now?

Q: Some sections question you being involved in politics when you do not even have your civic rights. What is your response?

My civic rights were deprived by unruly means, by the abuse of power, by manipulating the judicial system in this country, not because I committed any offense. I will fight back and I will get it. The same people who deprived me of my civic rights were talking about hanging me. The hangman failed to do that. Then they wanted to keep me in the jail until I died. But they could not do that either.

The rulers in this country are corrupt. They try to take the law into their hands. The rest of the world is not going to sleep. The world knows that they are messing up this country; that is why the international community is interested in putting things right in this country. I have confidence I will win my civic rights.

I am also challenging the President. He is scared to face me face-to-face in the political field; that is why he has done this. I challenge him; if he has even half an inch of backbone, he should be able to give me my civic rights and fight me in the political field face-to-face. We will apply pressure and see – the whole world will be behind us. We will save the country from those who are messing it up. We will overcome these obstacles.

Q: What mechanism will you be using to fight back for your civic rights?

The Judiciary is being pressurised. It was proved in this country. The politicians interfere with the judicial system in the country. The Attorney General’s Department is nothing but a joke. They are only safeguarding the criminals in this country. We need to change the name of that department. We have to ask the rest of the world to come and save this country. There are criminals and rogues controlling everything. We are members of the international organisations like the United Nations; if any country in the UN is facing difficulty of this nature, the rest of the countries will come to save that country.

Q: Will you be appealing to the international community to help you win back your civic rights?

We will definitely educate them. After that it is up to them to ensure justice and do the right thing. It is not only my rights that are important here. Others have their civic rights but that is only in name. It is as bad as not having civic rights. They may be able to vote, but do they have democratic rights? They can’t speak, they cannot express themselves, they can’t meet, they can’t associate; human rights are not there at all and criminals escape without any problem. So tell me where do civic rights matter? It is only the Rajapaksas that can live in this country without any problems. We saw in the past there have been rulers like this. We have seen how they ended up. If it can happen anywhere else in the world, the trend will go all over the world.

Q: Do you still feel your life is under threat?

I am not 100% free anyway. I have been given a little security, which is not sufficient. That is for the people to see that I have been given security. I played an important role in the war. Those who wear a tie and a coat and sit in a Colombo office have about 500 people for their security. We were the people who were commanding troops in the frontline. We don’t have one-tenth of the security those people enjoy. Earlier we had information that there are plans to assassinate me. But I am not scared. If they kill me, there will be more people taking over from me.

Q: There were allegations that when you were the Army Commander you suppressed the media. Your name was also linked with Lasantha Wickrematunge’s killing. When there are such allegations, how do you talk about restoring democracy or ensuring media freedom?

When I was the Army Commander, I fought the war. I was never interested in suppressing the media or assassinating journalists. If we were behind that, how it is that the same trend is continuing now even after we left? So the same people who were doing it at that time are doing it even now. If I was behind it, then all this must stop after I left.

When I was the Army Commander, I suspected a gang to be operated. When all these things took place, nobody was interested even to find out what was happening or who was behind it, including the President and the Defence Secretary. When you look at what happened in Kelaniya – Hasitha Madawala was killed with the blessings of a Minister who is doing all the unscrupulous things in that area. I know that he does not do anything without asking the President and the Defence Secretary. Even those days the President and the Defence Secretary had full control of this man.

Q: What is your opinion about the Executive Presidency?

As it is, the Executive Presidency has been given too much unnecessary powers. In civilised countries, things would have been different. If you abuse power like this, those countries will never tolerate it. We have a problem here. I don’t blame the appointment itself; the problem is with the person. We have to remove the unnecessary powers vested in that appointment. Either you have to take the whole appointment out or if you want the President, we have to do it in a different manner without leaving any room for him to abuse power. You take the immunity altogether and whoever who sits there should not be able to run a one-man show. He should be held responsible to Parliament. He has to be controlled by Parliament and Cabinet ministers. Therefore he will not be able to misbehave like this.

Q: If you or your party comes into power, will you continue to have the Executive Presidency?

I think it is better to scrap it. But of course you have to discuss because there are advantages and disadvantages. We have to have a huge discussion on this and weigh the pros and cons and see.

Q: What’s your opinion on the 18th Amendment?

The 18th Amendment has helped only the present ruler to remain in power till he dies. This is a sort of greediness I have never seen in anybody. This type of greediness is not acceptable. No civilised man would think on those lines. Other than that, the 18th Amendment gave nothing to the country. It took all the checks and balances that were there. The man who came promising that he would abolish the Executive Presidency has strengthened that position 10 times more than what it was.

Q: What do you think about the present situation in the country?

The present situation in the country is a volatile one. The present leader is partially responsible for this situation. At the same time he is totally incapable of handling this situation. The international situation is getting increasingly messed up. The Defence Secretary of this country openly says ‘we don’t need the help of the United States because we have China’. When two children fight in a Montessori, they make comments like this. Only the people who have the same psychology and mentality of a Montessori child will handle international issues in this manner.

The economy of the country is messed up too. This Government does not have a vision; there is no plan for the future. The plan, vision and everything is to rob. If they build a harbour, they will play out two-thirds of the money. They will plan meticulously for that playing out of the two-thirds of the money. They build an airport; their concentration again is how to play out the maximum amount of money from that deal. That is the plan and the strategy. They don’t have a plan for the economy. They think the people are okay, they think the people can manage. They think the village people can eat some jackfruit and manage. We have been going around into villages these days. People are aimless. They are malnourished, there is no proper clothing, nearly 50% of their paddy fields are abandoned, and tanks all over the country cannot even retain water because they have not been maintained properly. But they will put the picture of the three musketeers even when they build up a culvert. That is the only development we see.

Take the Southern Highway. They allocated money to go up to Matara. Three lanes were to be built on either side. They built only one side and divided that. ‘Ashcharya’ is that the traffic is crossing each other at 100 km per hour, keeping a gap of five feet. You see every day a vehicle has hit the fence in the centre. This is because they played out the money allocated to build the highway.

We can’t maintain hospitals, we can’t maintain schools. They talk about stopping alcoholism but then issue 2,000 new licenses to open new bars. Government ministers are struggling in the prohibited spirits, but what is the Head of the State doing? He is not doing anything. He is only going and taking pictures with children and waving flags.

Q: If you were in power, how would respond to the war crime allegations by the international community?

Had I been in power I would not have allowed this situation to come up, to start with. During the last stages of the war, the Head of State gave various promises to foreign countries, the Western countries, our neighbouring countries, about what he thought he could do. But now he has found that he is unable to keep those promises because the masses do not agree with some of those things. We have antagonised those countries. Now things are boomeranging. He is unable to handle it. Had we been there at that time, we could have continued the war and told the world exactly what we were doing, told them what we could do after the war. We would have never promised impossible things. There are reasons these countries put pressure on us. Now we are in a mess. Anybody who will try to handle this situation will find it difficult.

Q: But the Government claims that the international community is against them for eliminating terrorism in the country. Is that true?

It is not correct. When we were fighting the war we met them ambassadors – the US Ambassador, the Indian High Commissioner, they came to my office almost every week or every other week and discuss with us. They were also following what was going on. They didn’t have anything against the war. India openly said that it had never tolerated the LTTE. It had no objection in eliminating the LTTE. Other countries had banned the LTTE. Unfortunately the Indian High Commissioner did not handle the situation properly. Even our people were having other relationships with them; giving priority for good times in the evening without discussing the national issue.

Q: A common cry of the Government is that the sections of LTTE with the support of the international community are trying to topple the Government. If you eliminated the LTTE, how can there be remaining sections? Or have you not gotten rid of the LTTE completely?

We basically eliminated the LTTE locally. There were sympathisers outside the country. Such sympathisers could approach certain elements. Then there are other issues such as after the war, certain areas were not looked after properly. People were victimised and not taken care of by this Government. A couple of days ago some politicians in Kilinochchi were attacked. What is the Head of State doing? He has failed in his duties. In such a situation, any section can take the upper hand and they will try to push through. When the situation in the country is volatile, these elements try to take advantage of it.

Look at the attacks on the Muslim shops. What is this Government doing? Now they say that they have come to an agreement and the matter is settled. It is not that the matter is settled, whoever who were behind these need to be punished. How can someone does so much damage and say they have come to a settlement? People can’t take the law into their hands.

Some organisation has said that they have stopped the activities because the Defence Secretary had interfered. That means when they do these activities, the Defence Secretary advised them equally. When someone is appearing on behalf of Sinhalese or Buddhists sincerely, how can you stop what you are doing just because the Defence Secretary asked you to do so?

We can clearly see that this tyrannical rule is everywhere. The only problem is that people are scared to talk about these things. But I very well know everyone will agree with what I say.

Q: Do you think the Opposition parties are doing their best to take the country out of this grave situation?

The JVP is doing its part. But it is not strong enough. It is not powerful enough to make an impact now. I don’t agree with what the main political party in the Opposition is doing. That is why I wanted a difference in the political culture in this country. I don’t think the Opposition is capable of doing anything better than this.

Q: What are your views about the Joint Opposition? Will you be joining them in future?

What they have formed now is just an inefficient arrangement. We feel that they are only wasting time. Whatever they formed was formed just to bluff the people. There were 10 party leaders standing on the stage, out of them only two or three have any people voting for them. The others don’t have the mandate of the people. They are just party leaders for the sake of registering their party. With them you can’t change the political culture or the present political situation.

Q: Why do you say the JVP is not powerful enough to make any impact?

My personal view is that there are genuine people in the JVP. They are honourable and they love the country. But that is not good enough. Whatever the agenda brought to the people should be acceptable. Their political culture, agenda and political concept is not acceptable to the people. There are lot of experienced people in that party, they should understand this.

Q: It is no secret that certain members of the JVP work closely with you. How can you work with them if you don’t accept their political concepts?

If they are to represent my party, they will have to follow me. A former minister and some JVP Parliamentarians came and met me. I have told them that if they want to work with me, they need to be with our principles. There is no way that we will agree with JVP principles.

Q: Do you think people are willing to join a new party that is not even represented in Parliament?

We have people in Parliament representing our party. We had three earlier; two have left. People who voted for them are with us. We have the people’s mandate. We can’t judge the people’s sentiments or people’s power by the number of the MPs in Parliament. In our country, 50% of voters have not voted either for the Government or the main UNP. The Government has got 45 lakhs of the votes; that is actually not a good vote to win an election. That is the problem in our country.

Q: Do you think the love and respect people had for you is still there? Or has your popularity decreased over the years?

In our country, people start worshiping and putting up statues after someone dies. But it does not mean popularity and respect is not there when they are living. People may not talk about it or make a big hue and cry about it. If they respected me at some stage for what I did, there is no reason why they should not respect me now. I have not changed. I am the same man with the same thinking, same beliefs, and same aspirations. I will work with the same dignity and aspirations in the future also.

Q: Do you want to be the President of this country?

The present Government and present politicians are messing up this country. There is no suitable man in the Opposition to challenge the man who is creating this mess. When we form a new movement, if we want to change the politics of this country as per the principles of that movement, I have to take that responsibility – not to loot the country like the present politicians, but to ensure that the country will move forward.

I will make a humble and honourable request to the people. People need to understand that politicians in the past have ruined this country. They are only attempting to remain in power to build up their own welfare. But the people have not achieved anything. The people’s quality of life is going from bad to worse every day. We need to change this system. To change the system, we need to line up. Our party is ready to give leadership to the people in this country. If they support us, we will make this change happen.

Q: Have you sorted out the internal issues in your party?

When you start something new various people with various interests will want to work with you. Then as you go on, some people will fall by the wayside, because their interests are different. Some people left us because they had political agendas. But that should not be considered a drawback. I am happy that those who cannot follow my principles have fallen by the wayside.

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