Let me describe the scene at the Cinnamon Lakeside. You drive in and one side of the road is closed. There’s a bottleneck at the roundabout. There’s a copshed right there, what look like riot police at the gate. As you turn in smart Army guys speak to you, politely check the car, take down IDs. After slaloming round the other stopped cars and some roadblock buses, you pull into an entirely normal hotel. General Sarath Fonseka is on the third floor.
I parked in the basement and walked up. There was a wedding party heading out, bridesmaids were wearing green. Up the stairs and into the lobby which, since remodeling from the TransAsia, looks a bit too much like a bathroom for my taste. Run into a photojournalist from Perambara, some journalists from the Sunday Leader. They’re whacking the High Tea buffet. Looked like croissant with cheese or something, some hard boiled eggs.
The place is a bit empty. On a second pass I did notice some troop presence in the hotel, unarmed. Outside there are guys from various western organizations and media. I think Sarath Fonseka is on the third floor, with his family. I heard someone from the AFP was there, but he got promptly moved. I heard Jeremy Page from the Times Of London is here on a tourist visa, naughty naughty.
Some guy is playing piano in the lobby. I’m on the patio at Seven Degrees (the bar, though not now). The manager says they couldn’t serve booze cause of the election. Some guests are lounging by the pool. Troops pass beneath.
Not To Panic
Reading this perhaps sounds scary, like a military coup. Hearing rumors in front of a computer that’s kinda how I felt, but it’s not. Like many other aspects of international PR, the government somehow makes things look worse than they are. The troops outside are extremely professional and nice, indeed, as the Army usually is. They’re basically securing the building and trying to get people in as efficiently as possible.
I disagree entirely with the politics of surrounding the opposition candidate like this, but the troops are cool. On the political note, I heard that they searched Ranil’s car on the way out, which is a bit strange.
I spoke to someone who perceives better and he said that this is really about humiliating Sarath Fonseka and showing him (and any future challengers) just who’s boss. It looks like what someone who’d rig an election would do, but I don’t think it’s quite that. I think that the election was unfair and there was widespread intimidation and fraud. I do think that Mahinda won. I’m not entirely clear on anything right now, so please make up your own mind.
In the international media this looks crazy, but it’s not. Sitting here, it’s distinctly non-threatening. The troops are polite. I guess Fonseka is scared, but the people here are pretty much carrying on. This is to intimidate and humiliate Fonny, I think, and Mahinda is also taking no chance.
But To Aggrieve
That said, this is also bullshit. It is a complete abuse of power to surround the opposition candidate with troops. They were raiding and arresting opposition people yesterday, and government Provincial Councillors and MPs were intimidating or attempting to influence average people at the polls. Any one of these is a serious violation of both elections law and honor, but we don’t take it seriously.
Mahinda has and is abusing power and it’s uncool. And illegal, but rule of law is something we’ve subsumed to this power. And which I think many people in this country support. Up to a point is just comical, but it’s also sad. The vote hasn’t even been called and one candidate has placed another under siege. It’s kinda old school rural politics, but taking place in a five star hotel. It’s wrong.