Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sri Lanka's jailed general likely to attend parliament

By Ranga Sirilal - The jailed general who helped win Sri Lanka's quarter-century war appears likely to attend parliament's opening this week, officials said, after he won a seat while in military custody facing court-martial.

Retired General Sarath Fonseka this month won a seat in the capital Colombo under the opposition Democratic National Alliance (DNA), less than three months after he lost the presidential race to incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa by a landslide.

Fonseka ran as an opposition figurehead and his appearance at Thursday's parliament opening would provide a rare bright spot for opposition parties reeling from Rajapaksa's dominating victory at the April 8 legislative poll.

Rajapaksa's UPFA has 117 seats out of the 225-member parliament so far and is gunning for a two-thirds majority that would give the president the power to change the constitution.

Sri Lanka's stock market crossed the 4,000 mark for the first time in history on Monday, reacting to what brokers said was local confidence the new government would bring political and economic stability.

Political analysts expect the UPFA to get at least 140 seats once results are in from two re-polls due on Tuesday in electorates where ballots were annulled because of violence.

The president is expected to name a slimmed-down cabinet on Wednesday. Rajapaksa last week told the Divaina newspaper the new cabinet would have no more than 38 ministers, down from the current 109 including deputies.

Fonseka's parliamentary attendance would be a small victory for him, coming 11 months after he declared the army had destroyed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists and seized control of the entire island.

"He should be allowed to attend the parliamentary session. We have sent a letter to the army commander and the secretary-general of parliament, asking them to facilitate," DNA spokesman Anura Kumara Dissanayake said.

Military spokesman Major-General Prasad Samarasinghe confirmed the request had been made.

"The army commander will take action according the law of the country," Samarasinghe said, declining to say whether that means Fonseka can go to parliament.

Two other senior military sources speaking on condition of anonymity said Fonseka would be allowed to attend.

Two weeks after the presidential vote, the government arrested Fonseka and charged him in two courts-martial, one for politicking while he was still in uniform and the other for illegal procurement while he was army commander.

He had been under suspicion of plotting a coup, which the military said had led it to surround him in a Colombo hotel as counting was going after the Jan. 26 election. Fonseka had fallen out with Rajapaksa, saying the president sidelined him.

The general denies all wrongdoing and says he was imprisoned because he posed a political risk to Rajapaksa. The government has laughed that off, pointing out the president beat the general by 18 percentage points.

© Reuters

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