Sri Lanka: It’s Rajapaksa vs Fonseka

Last Updated: Jan 25, 2010, 16:31 PM IST

Kamna Arora

They were accredited for ending Sri Lanka`s 26-year long and brutal civil war against the Tamil Tigers. And now, the duo - Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and General Sarath Fonseka, the former head of Sri Lanka`s Army – are locked in a presidential battle. Whoever becomes the next president will have a tough time in transforming this small war-scarred island nation gripped with violence, intimidation and corruption into the one which is peaceful and stable.

The elections will be the first in which the entire country can participate freely, since the decisive defeat of LTTE rebels in May last year.

Mahinda Rajapaksa – A man who walks the talk

Sri Lanka’s President and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is eyeing a second term in January 26 elections in the wake of his increased popularity following the defeat of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the end of a long civil war.

Rajapaksa – whose favourite slogan is `I am a man who does what I tell you` - decided to terminate his six-year term almost two years early in November 2009 and sought a fresh mandate as president to help take advantage of his war-hero status with the Sinhalese.

However, his dreams have been dented by his former Army chief - General Sarath Fonseka – who has resigned from his position to run as the opposition`s presidential candidate. Rajapaksa suffered another blow recently when ex-president Chandrika Kumaratunga vowed to extend her support to Fonseka. Notably, Rajapaksa represents Kumaratunga`s Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

Born on November 18, 1945, in southern Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa is a Buddhist lawyer. In 1970, he became the country`s youngest ever parliamentarian. He lost his seat in 1977 and came back into the Parliament 12 years later. It was during the 1987-90 Marxist insurrection that he became a staunch supporter of human rights. Ironically, he is now believed to be a hardline president who hardly bothered about human rights while raging war with LTTE rebels.

Rajapaksa became minister of labour and fisheries in 1994. He was appointed as Leader of the Opposition in March 2002. After the United People`s Freedom Alliance gained a slim majority in 2004 Parliamentary Elections, he was named as the 13th prime minister. He further defeated former PM Ranil Wickremasinghe of the United National Party to win the 2005 Presidential Election.

Sarath Fonseka - A Credible Change

General Sarath Fonseka is the former commander of the Sri Lankan Army and a former Chief of Defence Staff of Sri Lanka. Fonseka oversaw the final three-year phase in Sri Lanka’s civil war, which saw the decimation of the LTTE.

Running his campaign with the slogan Vishvasaniya Venasak (A Credible Change), Fonseka gives a tough competition to incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The rift between Rajapaksa and Fonseka started widening when the latter was promoted to the ceremonial rank of Chief of Defence Staff effective from July 15, 2009 after being hastily removed from his post as Army chief.

Finally, Fonseka resigned from his post on November 12, 2009 to challenge Rajapaksa in the January 26 election. He further tried to woo Tamils by stating that he was unsatisfied with the way tens of thousands of war refugees were being treated.

On April 25, 2006, Fonseka had survived an LTTE suicide bomb in which he was seriously wounded and nine others were killed. He was later taken to Singapore for treatment, and resumed his duties in July.

Born on December 17, 1950 in the southern coastal town of Ambalangoda, Fonseka joined the Army in 1970. He is credited with being involved in a number of major operations against the Tamil rebels, including the 1995 recapture of the northern Jaffna peninsula.