by Kusal Perera
President Rajapaksa is expected back tomorrow morning at “Temple Trees” from his official Vietnam tour. He is expected to meet Monday evening with the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) trade union leaders in resolving their salary issue which prompted them to go on a “work to rule” from Thursday last week. This created heavy panic buying of fuel and much chaos in commuting. If this trade union demand of the CPC employees is not met adequately (even if it is met, for that matter) other trade unions are threatening trade union action in very sensitive areas like electricity, ports and telecommunications.
Everything depends on President Rajapaksa right now. What he says and does would see a spate of changes in most things “Sri Lankan”. Even the fate of the JVP initiated, UNP led national front’s latest pet, the “common” presidential candidate.
President Rajapaksa is expected to make a decision on the next elections in a few days, after his arrival. Perhaps, in a few weeks. He is expected to declare a presidential election, chopping off 02 years from his first term as president. Insiders, real insiders who have unrestricted access to his family dinners and breakfasts claim, the 02 year issue would be dealt with once the presidential election is over. Thus it is implied that the Rajapaksas have already decided “they” would win the next presidential election on their own conditions, what ever the Opposition feel or do about it.
The question that would then arise is, how certain would that be, if a broad Opposition alliance that includes the UNP, the JVP, SLFP-M Wing and other little rag tag groups and parties come up with the war hero, Fonseka, as the common opposition candidate ?
That too, that is Sarath F as the common candidate of the opposition could also be decided by President Rajapaksa. Perhaps it is reason why Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), Gen Fonseka to date has not made any comment what so ever on his speculated candidature, while allowing others to do the talking.
The legal responsibility of such high standing officials in the State, does not allow them to vacate their positions as and when they want. That holds more water, with the armed forces. This legal restriction has logic, in not allowing any such highly responsible positions to fall vacant without prior arrangement. Here lies the catch, President Rajapaksa could play to his absolute advantage.
Fonseka was shifted to the position of CDS before his service extension as Army Commander expired and he thus has time till 2009 December 18, for his retirement. President Rajapaksa will be qualified to go for the next presidential election any day after 2009 November 17, when he completes 04 years in office. Thus, it gives President Rajapaksa 30 days from his qualifying date of 17 November, to checkmate the Opposition Common candidate. If President Rajapaksa decides to have the nomination day for the next presidency fixed any time within those 30 days, it would technically leave the Opposition’s common candidate completely out of the scene.
The trap this common candidate has fallen to is that, he can not even retire prior to his official retirement date, unless the Commanding Chief of the Armed Forces, who is the President, accepts such retirement. Hence, President Rajapaksa has the discretion in his hand in keeping the CDS in service until 18 December, even if he tenders his retirement papers prematurely.
What then would the Opposition’s dilemma be ? They could try legal interpretations to say that the CDS position was created by parliament on an act that provides final decision making powers to the Secretary Defense and therefore the CDS position does not have such restrictions on responsibility. Yet, that would be a long drawn out battle in the Courts that may not give enough time to submit nominations, as the State could have a restrictive order served, till the case is closed and the case could be any way dragged out for over a month.
The opposition alliance and the JVP, would therefore have to find a fall back position. The other Sarath seems to be out of favour by now. He is any way expected to be investigated by the Bribery Commission and that may get accelerated, if any wind carries his name around.
What it clearly means is, the JVP is in the know of this catch 22 situ and have already decided to go on a “boycott the presidential elections” slogan. Their star theoretical orator, Anura Kumar Dissanayake has said they are in the process of forming an alternate front to demand the abolishing of the presidency. This has no ambiguity in that it could be turned into a boycott campaign, when President Rajapaksa declares his presidential election.
Will the UNP follow the same line ? They’ve got nothing to lose by joining in. They would any way lose the presidential elections, with no credible candidate and no credible programme in hand to be campaigned for. For now, the tide is for the Rajapaksas and against the general public. That, with the consensus of the Southern constituency, of course.
It would only be a matter of checking how many countries are still below us, in the “Failed State” index.
25 October, 2009