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11/02/2010 | Sri Lankan politics - Arrest the opposition

The Economist Staff

Sri Lanka’s president cracks down on opponents once more

 

NOT content with trouncing his main opponent, General Sarath Fonseka, in Sri Lanka’s presidential election last month, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has had him arrested. General Fonseka was nabbed—brutishly, by over 100 soldiers, according to his supporters—on Monday February 8th. Officials say he will be charged in a court martial with conspiring to topple the government.

He was accused shortly after he lost an acrimonious election on January 26th of plotting to assassinate Mr Rajapaksa and seize power. That heralded a purge in the army that General Fonseka led until recently, with 14 senior officers retired and around 40 serving and former soldiers arrested. But the government has given no details of General Fonseka’s alleged plot, which it says he hatched while still in uniform. A statement released by the defence ministry explained that the general had been detained “in connection with condemnation [sic] acts and other military offences”. A government spokesman also suggested that General Fonseka’s crime was in fact to have got involved in politics while still in uniform.

Neutrals, of whom there are few in Sri Lanka, a place sorely divided by a long, ethnically based war and now by politics, may reserve judgment. Mr Fonseka has an inclement reputation. He was the architect of the army’s annihilation of the Tamil Tiger rebels in a brutal military campaign that ended last May. It saw many atrocities, including an alleged slaughter of at least 8,000 civilian refugees in the war's last months. Yet his arrest, in the absence of any obvious evidence against him, is also consistent with the autocratic and vindictive habits of Mr Rajapaksa’s regime.

It follows an ugly election in which the president’s team, sensing an unexpectedly strong challenge from General Fonseka, set goons on his supporters and commandeered state resources to get out the vote. The general and his backers, including every main opposition party, claim that the vote-count was also rigged—though, even if true, this would perhaps not have affected the result, given Mr Rajapaksa’s thumping victory margin. Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority, to which both candidates belong, mostly voted for the president, whom they credit with ending the war. They also seem largely complacent about the erosion of their civil liberties that he has overseen.

Recent weeks in Sri Lanka have provided more evidence of this. To pay back the president’s election-time critics, journalists have been assaulted, threatened and arrested. The government has stepped up its efforts to discredit those, including General Fonseka, who harp on about its alleged war crimes. On the campaign-trial—perhaps surprisingly given his former commanding role—the general accused Mr Rajapaksa’s brother and defence chief, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, of ordering that all Tiger leaders should be shot and not allowed to surrender. He later retracted this; but on Monday said he would be happy to appear as a witness in any war-crimes investigation against the army. According to the government this confirmed “beyond doubt that the retired general was hell-bent on betraying the gallant armed forces of Sri Lanka who saved the nation from the most ruthless terrorist group in the world.”

For those hoping for better from the re-elected Mr Rajapaksa these events are dismaying. His regime’s wartime ruthlessness was repellent yet at least comprehensible—being largely driven by a justified fear of the terrorist Tigers’ capacity for survival. Yet the Tigers are no more. And Mr Rajapaksa is Sri Lanka’s unchallenged ruler: he will have another seven years as president and will expect his Sri Lanka Freedom Party and its allies to win a majority in parliamentary elections that are scheduled for April 8th. On Tuesday the president dissolved parliament ahead of the polls. With plenty more challenges ahead—including an urgent need for reconciliation between the Sinhalese majority and members of the bruised Tamil minority—many had looked to him for more careful leadership. Yet his government is looking as clumsy and paranoid as ever.

The Economist (Reino Unido)

 



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27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
11/01/2009|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
23/11/2008|
23/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
22/08/2008|
22/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
24/05/2008|
24/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
29/04/2008|
11/02/2008|
05/01/2008|
09/12/2007|
18/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/09/2007|
26/08/2007|
25/08/2007|
11/07/2007|
16/06/2007|
16/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
24/04/2007|
24/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
28/02/2007|
28/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
17/11/2006|
30/09/2006|
28/07/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
06/03/2006|
21/02/2006|
17/02/2006|
31/01/2006|
10/01/2006|
28/12/2005|
31/10/2005|
26/09/2005|
29/08/2005|
11/08/2005|
08/08/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|

ver + notas
 
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House