Gardihewa Sarath Chandralal Fonseka, commonly known as Sarath Fonseka, rcds, psc, (General Sarath Fonseka, RWP, RSP, VSV, USP,rcds, psc) was born on 18 December 1950. He is currently a Sri Lankan politician and former General in the Sri Lanka Army.
Asa Commander of Sri Lanka Army, he played an integral role in ending the 26-year Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009, defeating the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. He also briefly served as the Chief of Defence Staff.
Fonseka After retiring entered politics as the common opposition candidate in the 2010 Presidential election contesting against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Following his controversial defeat in the presidential election he was elected to Parliament in the general election that followed. He lost his parliamentary seat after he was sentenced to serve a three year prison sentence by a military court which convicted him of irregularities in army procurements. He was released on 21st Jan 2015 by the new president Maithripala Sirisena
Fonseka joined the Sri Lanka Army in 1970 and saw extensive action throughout the 26-year civil war, culminating in a term as Commander of the Army from 6 December 2005 – 15 July 2009. As commander, he oversaw the final phase of the Sri Lankan Civil War, which resulted in the total defeat of the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam organisation. He also survived an assassination attempt when an LTTE suicide bomber attacked his motorcade in April 2006. Following the end of the war Fonseka was promoted to a four star rank in the Sri Lanka Army, becoming the first serving officer to hold a four star rank. He has been described as Sri Lanka’s most successful army commander.
A few months after the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, Fonseka was appointed Chief of Defence Staff by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. While his new post was of a higher rank, Fonseka saw the move as an attempt to sideline him. Amid rumours of his desire to enter politics, he subsequently retired from the post on 16 November 2009. On 29 November 2009, Fonseka formally announced his candidature in the 2010 Sri Lankan Presidential Election. His candidacy was endorsed by the main opposition parties, and Fonseka became the main opposition candidate challenging President Rajapaksa. He campaigned under the sign of a swan, and the slogan Vishvasaniya Venasak (A Credible Change).
Following his election defeat, Fonseka was arrested on 8 February 2010, and the government announced he will be court-martialed for committing “military offences.” He was found guilty of corrupt military supply deals and sentenced to three years in prison. After serving more than 2 years in prison, Fonseka was released on 21 May 2012
Fonseka was born to Peter and Piyawathie Fonseka in Ambalangoda, a coastal town in the south of Sri Lanka. He is initially attended Madawalalanda Maha Vidyalaya (1955–1957) in Ampara, later receiving his secondary education from Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda (1958–1965) and Ananda College, Colombo (1966–1969). In school, Fonseka participated in swimming and water polo events, later representing defence services in these sports.
Fonseka joined the Ceylon Army on February 5, 1970 as a cadet officer and after completing his officer training at the Army Training Centre was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, Ceylon Sinha Regiment on June 1, 1971 during the 1971 Insurrection.
He went on to hold several commands and staff appointments. Serving as a Battalion Commander; Brigade Commander; General Officer Commanding, 57th Division; Commander, Security Forces Headquarters, Jaffna and Chief of Staff of the Sri Lankan Army before he was appointed Commander of the Army in 2005.
He is a graduate of the Royal College of Defence Studies and the Defence Services Command and Staff College, Bangladesh. He has also undergone Infantry Officers Advanced Course (USA), Company Commanders Course (Pakistan), Battalion Support Weapons Course (India), Counter Insurgency Jungle Warfare Course (India) and the Commando Officers Course (India).
During his career Fonseka was involved in the operations Balawegaya and Jayasikuru, which led to the capture of the Elephant Pass and Mankulam. The 6th Battalion of his Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment, which was under siege at Elephant Pass in 1991, repulsed the LTTE attack with reinforcements. He served as Deputy General Officer Commanding during Riviresa, the capture of Jaffna from the Tamil Tigers in December 1995. Later, troops commanded by Fonseka offered stiff resistance to Tamil Tigers in 2000 following the Fall of Elephant Pass, ultimately having to flee since they were unable to withstand the attack. Fonseka was wounded in 1993 in the Yaldevi operation.
Among other appointments, he commanded the 23 Brigade of the Sri Lankan Army at Polonnaruwa in 1993, he served in the General Staff at Army Headquarters, he was a Centre Commandant of the Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment, Brigade Commander in Operation Balawegay, Deputy Commandant of the 5 Brigade Group, Mannar and Coordinating Officer for Gampaha.
In 1993, the Jaffna Fort was under siege by Tamil Tiger rebels. Then Colonel Fonseka led troops in the Midnight Express operation to relieve the besieged position. Several hundred soldiers were saved due to the operation.
Suicide bomb attack
On 25 April 2006, Lt. General Fonseka survived an LTTE suicide bomb attack by a pregnant LTTE operative named Anoja Kugenthirarasah who infiltrated Army Headquarters by attending the regular maternity clinic provided for civilians at the military hospital. Fonseka was seriously injured in the attack, and nine others were killed. The General was rushed first to the military hospital at Army Headquarters, transferred to the Colombo General Hospital and later flown to Singapore for medical treatment. After recovering from his injuries, he resumed his duties in July 2006.
Defeat of the LTTE
On 18 May 2009, the Sri Lankan military completely defeated the LTTE after 26 years of civil war. Foneseka played a key role in the final stages of the conflict as Commander of the Army, and is considered as a national hero by the majority of Sri Lankans due to this achievement.
Chief of Defence staff
Fonseka was appointed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) by President Rajapaksa effective 15 July 2009. He was the first person appointed CDS under the newly approved Chief of Defence Staff Act, which was supposed to give the CDS more responsibilities in co-ordinating the armed forces.
Fonseka officially handed over his letter of resignation to the President through the Defence secretary on 12 November 2009. He requested to serve as CDS until the end of the month, He resigned from that post to compete as a candidate for the presidential election which was held in January 2010. He left office on 16 November 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed Air Force Chief Roshan Goonatilake to succeed Fonseka on 16 November 2009.
There were newspaper reports published about Fonseka entering politics after the war victory, beginning in August 2009. One of the articles explains it as follows, “General Fonseka launches political campaign – I will make a supreme sacrifice to defend my land against the politicos who ever they may be joining hands with India. Now we have a daunting task to protect our motherland from India”. Gen. Fonseka entering politics was a debate even during the war against LTTE.
Fonseka was installed as the common candidate by a coalition of political parties mainly United National Party (UNP) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). General Fonseka however declared himself as a non-party candidate.
Immediately after declaration that Fonseka was ready for candidacy, President Rajapakse called for new presidential election two years before expiration of his term.
Fonseka, UNP and JVP led a fierce battle against President Rajapakse. They claimed that Fonseka was the real hero who won the war against LTTE and a Fonseka government was ready for good governance along with the support of all the minorities, eliminate prevailing corruption under Mahinda Rajapaka government and also promised a massive salary increase for public servants which had been denied thus far. They also promised to change the constitution to remove executive powers from the presidency and transfer such powers to the parliament. Further they promised to establish the 17 amendment to authorise independent commissions as a measure to counter the ongoing mishandling of public money.
Fonseka suffered a number of setbacks in his election campaign. In December 2009, A news item was published in local newspaper “Sunday Leader” quoting Sarath Fonseka saying that during the final few days of the war against LTTE, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse (who is a brother of the President) gave orders to the army senior officers to execute LTTE cadres who surrendered to the Army. Due to the massive publicity given in the state media, this statement was taken by the whole country as betrayal of army officers by the retired army commander himself. Although General Fonseka later issued a statement saying that his original statement has been published by the Sunday Leader out of context, many analysts say that Fonseka lost the election from that moment.
Meanwhile, in the next attempt government put some evidence before public that General Fonseka was corrupt while he was the commander of the Sri Lanka Army. There was evidence that he removed the tender board chairman from the office and he himself became the chairman only to offer all the tenders to a company owned by his son-in-law. Adding fuel to the fire, one of his close friends living in Oklahoma USA “Upul Illangamge” spilled the beans by disclosing to the media in a press conference how the company was formed, registered in USA and Fonseka’s son-in-law sold 3 million rupees worth equipment necessary for the war during the final three years of the war. Fonseka claimed that the company referred in the accusation has no connection to his son-in-laws company although both companies share one name: Hicorp. But this allegation was on all public & state media supporting the government day and night and it had been used as a mean of discredit his reputation and attempts were also made to label him as a traitor by key spokespeople in the government.
Then the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a party loyal to LTTE, agreed to support Sarath Fonseka in the Presidential Election after having several discussions with both Mahinda Rajapakse and General Sarath Fonseka. Then government disclosed a secret agreement between TNA and General Fonseka in which Fonseka had promised merger of North and East provinces and an autonomous status for Tamils in return for the support of the north and east Tamil population in the Presidential election.But opposition leaders prove that agreement was a fake one with fake signatures adapted by another resources.But some Sinhalese reacted with anger to this agreement since the army fought 30-year-old bloody war against LTTE only to reject similar autonomous state “Ealam” claimed by the LTTE. Also opposition revealed a secret written agreement between Mahinda Rajapaksa and EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda who was a Tamil politician faithful to Rajapakse.
Sarath Fonseka however sincerely expected that he was set for a massive win on 26 January 2010. He booked 70 rooms of a five star hotel some hundred metres away from the President’s House for the night of 26 January 2010. Medias citing Sri Lankan military reported that a large number (about 400) of deserted army soldiers spent the night with General Fonseka at the hotel to enjoy the election results. Fonseka camp stated that there may be about 400 people in the hotel but are the leaders of parties supporting the common opposition candidate, and did not consist of any army deserters.
Election results were released by the election commissioner electorate by electorate in the morning of 27 January 2010.
After Presidential Election 2010
Sarath Fonseka refused to accept the election results published by the Election Commissioner. He also said he would consider legal action but did not indicate against whom. There are reports that say Sarath Fonseka is making every possible attempt to leave the country as early as possible quoting him saying “I cannot even leave the country, Rajapakse has blacklisted my passport along with my family, including my daughters’ who are still studying in USA”. Some newspapers reported that he is seeking asylum in Australia, UK or India. Meanwhile BBC announced that Gotabaya Rajapakse is intending to take legal action against Sarath Fonseka for leaking top secret government information. Later he stated in a press conference that he does not intend to leave the country, rather would stay with the people who voted him to see the justice is established.
On 28 January 2010 CID began its new investigations on claims made by several ministers of Rajapakse government that Fonseka was planning a coup to remove Rajapakse in case of close election results on 26 January in connection with this investigation, a media institution “Lanka” run by JVP who helped Fonseka during presidential election was sealed on 30 January 2010 by the CID with a court order. Within few days the court accepted the appeal and ordered CID to re-open the office. Sri Lanka Army arrested Sarath Fonseka for committing military offences on 8 February 2010.
Arrest, sentence and release
It was alleged that Fonseka became a political prisoner after running for presidential election against the current president Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was arrested at his office in Colombo on 8 February 2010 by Military Police, and taken into military custody. The military announced he will be court-martialed for “committing military offences” during his time as Chief of Defense Staff. Military stated that he will be charged according the SL ARMY ACT, Section 57(1). The military tribunal in which the case was heard was challenged on multiple issues including the suitability and qualifications of the judges and the hearing of the case during an official holiday period of lawyers (9 August to 13th, 2010), and his lawyers were not present. Furthermore, because the witnesses were summoned during the aforementioned period, the lawyers of the accused never had a chance to interrogate the witnesses. Amidst all these issues, the panel of judges of General Court Martial which included Major General A.L.R. Weeratunga, Major General Lalith Wijetunga and Major General Bhatiya Jayatilleke found Fonseka guilty of the charges. Sentenced to 30 months after the court martial in 2010 convicted him of irregularities in army procurements. In August 2010, by proclamation from President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces he was cashiered from the army having been stripped of his rank, medals and decorations. His military pension was forfeited.
On November 2011 Fonseka was sentenced to three years in jail and fined Rs. 5000 in a two-one split verdict delivered in the white flag case with two judges finding him guilty on one of the charges while one of the judges acquitted him on all three charges.
In March 2012, he was acquitted by Judge Sunil Rajapaksa of the High Court of Colombo of Fraud Charges in the case known as the “Hi-Corp Case” upholding the objections raised by his Counsel that the charges in the High Court and the Court Martial were substantially the same and that he cannot be sentenced twice on the same offense. However one more case continues against him in respect of an allegation that he harboured deserters during the Presidential Election Campaign
General Election 2010
Sarath Fonseka, Leader of Democratic National Alliance, obtained over 98,000 votes only in Colombo District. It is the 2nd highest individual vote obtaining percentage ever in the Election, 89.0%. His party was placed 3rd in the district with 110,683 votes (11.78%). General Sarath Fonseka was a Member of the Sri Lankan Parliament, until he was sentenced to serve a two and half-year prison sentence which made him unable to continue his membership in the chamber according to the Sri Lankan Constitution. However, he requested the Court of Appeal to issue writs against the cashiering, prison sentence and removal from parliament. The petition on the prison sentence was rejected in December 2011 and he appealed to the Supreme Court in January 2012. Other two petitions are still being hearing in the Court of Appeal.
Post sentence politics
President Mahinda Rajapaksa signed the order documents for the release of Fonseka during May 2012.
On September 2012, DNA MP Tiran Alles resigned from the post of Secretary of the Democratic National Party headed by Sarath Fonseka. Alles was in the media spotlight as he held several rounds of discussions with President Mahinda Rajapaksa to secure the release of Sarath Fonseka. On October 2012, National Bhikku Front and DNA called for a movement for abolition of the executive presidency under the joint leadership of UNP MP Karu Jayasuriya and Fonseka. Despite the fact that Jayasuriya requested the permission, United National Party leadership ordered its members to boycott the rally which was scheduled to be held at Hyde Park Colombo. Also in the same month, party deputy leader Arjuna Ranatunga resigned from the party. In November 2012, party chairman Jayantha Ketagoda resigned from the position. Fonseka extended his support to Maithripala Sirisena in the Sri Lankan presidential election, 2015.
His awards and decorations included the Gallantry Medals; Rana Wickrama Padakkama (RWP), Rana Sura Padakkama (RSP), distinguished service medals; Vishista Seva Vibhushanaya (VSV), Uttama Seva Padakkama (USP) and other notable medal campaign medals; Riviresa Campaign Services Medal, Purna Bhumi Padakkama, North and East Operations Medal, Desha Putra Sammanaya and several others.
Sri Lankan awards
In Order of Precedence
Rana Wickrama Padakkama Bar.PNG Rana Wickrama Padakkama
Rana Sura Padakkama bar.GIF Rana Sura Padakkama
Vishista Seva Vibhushanaya bar.svg Vishista Seva Vibhushanaya
Uttama Seva Padakkama Bar.gif Uttama Seva Padakkama
3by2white.svg Desha Putra Sammanaya
3by2white.svg Purna Bhumi Padakkama
3by2white.svg North and East Operations Medal
3by2white.svg Riviresa Campaign Services Medal
Sarath Fonseka is married to Anoma Indumathi Munasinghe, daughter of D.J.and Eugine Munasinghe of Dematagoda, and has two daughters Aparna & Apsara.