Sarath Fonseka posters in Jaffna, 2010.
I started off not really liking General Sarath Fonseka, him being part of the aggressive war effort. I didn’t support the war (largely cause I thought it would fail), and I thought Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Fonseka were gleefully stomping everything. Fonseka even came out and said “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people,” in 2008 (National Post). Then when he ran for President in 2010, he won mainly in minority areas. Which shows you how things can change.
What’s the lesson here? For me, it’s that politics trumps ethnicity. It’s not that the Rajapaksas are inherently racist. I mean, maybe they are (I don’t think so), but whatever they do is mediated by political pressure – ie, people calling them and asking for or giving them feedback. For the Rajapaksas, a significant minority is Sinhala Nationalist, so they bow to that political reality. Sarath Fonseka, who had hitherto been considered a racist [by some people], suddenly became the minority protector in 2010, as positioned against Mahinda. Which is crazy, right, except it’s not. It’s not like he had a change of heart or even that it mattered. That was his political reality.
IMHO, the biggest problem Tamils have isn’t the Sinhalese, it’s that they’re so divided politically. In fairness, Tamils did exercise significant political pressure after Independence and got little but beatings and pogroms in return. They were once the main opposition, but little good it seemed to do. When Tamils, under the yoke of the LTTE, effectively tried to opt out of the political process altogether, however, things got even worse. When the LTTE ethnically cleansed Muslims and alienated Eastern Tamils, things got even worse. Now it’s a fractured and decimated polity which can’t really swing elections.
Except it could. As Fonseka showed, Tamil speaking people can still form a semi-effective vote base. If the UNP had its shit halfway together they would capture this minority vote, but instead it’s slipped away to smaller, weaker ethnic parties (like the Tamil National Alliance and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress). But that vote base is there, and there is a political reality which can make even the most Sinhala politician (or soldier) get real.