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Sri Lanka - 2010 Presidential Election

President Rajapaksa stood for re-election 2 years before the end of his term, in January 2010, and was re-elected by a margin of 18% over the opposition candidate, retired Army General Sarath Fonseka. The final vote count gave President Rajapaksa approximately 58 percent of the vote, with the main opposition candidate, retired general Sarath Fonseka, receiving just over 40 percent. There were no reliable public opinion polls conducted during the election campaign with which to compare these results. There were allegations of possible fraud occurring at counting centers, as ballots were tallied and totals reported to the elections commissioner. While many observers questioned the size of Rajapaksa's margin of victory, most believed that the results represented the will of the electorate.

The charismatic commander of the army, General Sarath Fonseka, also received much credit for the May 2009 victory. General Fonseka was expected to serve till the end of December 2009 -- but the President made sweeping changes at the very top of the security establishment. Fonseka was moved up to the newly-created position of chief of defence staff months before December 2009. The general learned, much to his chagrin, that the position entailed little or no influence over military matters.

By late 2009 the Fonseka affair was a complicated, convoluted game within a game that both Fonseka and the Rajapaksas were trying to play to their own advantage. Fonseka may have been aiming to shift blame for war crimes accountability from himself to Gotabhaya while appearing to be the dutiful soldier reporting to his commander. At the same time, the Rajapaksas would like to see Fonseka eliminated as a political competitor -- but not through arrest and conviction abroad, where he presumably would quickly turn state's evidence on potential war crimes.

Chief of Defense (CHOD) General Sarath Fonseka submitted his resignation to President Rajapaksa on 12 November 2009. The opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), together with a breakaway faction of the president's Sri Lanka Freedom Party was quick to see an opportunity to lure the general into politics. This they did by getting the United National Party to also agree to Fonseka as a common candidate, in order to split the majority Sinhala vote in the middle.

Fonseka's candidacy split the Sinhalese nationalist vote down the middle. As Tamil National Alliance Leader R. Sampanthan noted, "A crack has appeared in the Sinhalese nationalist edifice." Fonseka's previous hardline comments declaring that Sri Lanka was for the Sinhalese and his lead military role in defeating the LTTE suggest that Fonseka would have to spend little campaign time convincing the population that he values the Sinhalese population's interests and thus can focus on wooing minority Tamil and Muslim voters and moderate Sinhalese voters. Fonseka also is likely to garner support from hardline voters who think Fonseka has been treated poorly by the government after the defeat of the LTTE. Fonseka's candidacy reenergized the opposition, including the main opposition party UNP, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), and the hardline JVP.

But Fonseka's past hardline comments and his former role as Army chief made his task of wooing crucial minority constituencies more difficult. Many minority voters and political parties held Fonseka personally responsible for the deaths of many Tamils in the waning days of the war, a fact that made it more difficult for Fonseka to win over a badly-needed constituency. And the alliance of opposition parties backing Fonseka was made up of parties that shared little in common ideologically.

On 08 February 2010 the former Army commander who had just lost Sri Lanka's presidential election was arrested by the country's military. Sarath Fonseka say he was forcibly taken away by heavily armed troops while meeting with several senior opposition leaders at the offices of the Peoples Liberation Front, known as the JVP. Fonseka was from the elite Sinha regiment; Defence Secretary Rajapaksa served in the Gajaba regiment. The Sri Lankan military, which Fonseka used to head, says the retired Army four-star general faces fraud charges connected to his tenure in the armed services. The government also contended Fonseka was connected to a post-election plot to assassinate President Rajapaksa.

General Sarath Fonseka, the former army commander who led the military during the last stages of the war, was sequestered without facing formal charges. He eventually was charged with engaging in politics while still a serving military officer and corruption in military procurements and tried by two courts martial, which found him guilty in September 2010 and sentenced him to 30 months in prison and stripped him of his pension and all military honors.

Retired Army General Sarath Fonseka expressed disappointment at the way he was treated after the military victory against the Tigers. In November 2011 Fonseka was found guilty of charges against him and has been sentenced to 3 years imprisonment by the Colombo High Court. Fonseka, who was already serving a 30-month jail term imposed by a court martial, faced 3 years imprisonment and a fine of Rs.5000. The charges against him were based on making a false statement to the Editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper that the Defence Secretary Gorabhaya Rajapaksa had ordered not to accommodate any of the LTTE leaders attempting to surrender with white flags, and thereby inciting violence.

The Government of Sri Lanka received appeals from the international community that any action against the former Army general be pursued in accordance with Sri Lankan law and consistent with Sri Lankas political traditions, but many observers regarded Fonseka's prosecution and conviction as politically motivated. The Sri Lankan Government received praise for pardoning Tamil journalist J.S. Tissanayagam in May 2010, but concerns remain about the state of media freedom and the ability of Sri Lankans to express dissent against government policies and actions.

Rajapaksas popularity soared after he ended a long-running civil war with Tamil rebels and he was easily reelected in 2010. He won praise for rebuilding the economy, but critics accused him of autocratic rule. He handed key positions to his brothers: One headed the economy ministry, one was speaker of parliament and one was defense chief.

As of 2012 the government was dominated by the president's family; two of the president's brothers held key executive branch posts as defense secretary and minister of economic development, while a third brother was the speaker of parliament. Independent observers generally characterized the presidential and parliamentary elections as problematic. Both elections were fraught with violations of the election law by all major parties and were influenced by the governing coalition's massive use of state resources.




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