By Vishwamithra1984 –
“Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them.” ~ Bertrand Russell
The present government and its coalition partners are held in so much suspicion and contempt, the obvious question that is being asked by every reasonable man and woman today is: “even if we win, will they allow our candidate to be declared the winner?” It is a very reasonable question to ask and equally reasonable to prepare the voter, supporter and activist of the Opposition for the uphill task of upholding the law of the land to compel all officials, from the Election Department to the Police to be fair and balanced when dealing with the intricate process of balloting, counting and declaration of the winner- new President.
When undertaking any task, big or small, being ready has no substitute. Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst is a very reasonable demand from any new recruit. When talking about elections, what appears most significant in the process is, other than campaigning itself, actual voting (balloting) and counting. And when people refer to their suspicions and doubts, they are in fact referring to polling and counting. Ever since Independence, almost all our elections, whether they were General, Presidential or By Elections, have been marred by rigging, some minor and others bordering on outright and unbelievably mass-scale frauds committed in broad daylight with regard to polling and by nightly maneuvers, especially initiated by the current regime.
In such a continuing and degenerating electioneering process, it is nothing but natural that the voters question its questionable legitimacy and validity. In such a context, what can the Opposition do? The passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has given the Executive almost unbridled powers to control the process. The Elections Commissioner is yet to prove that he has some backbone; being called a ‘General’ without the necessary stamina and guts to ensure the sure and safe execution of his duties is a shameful badge to ornament his civil uniform. A breakdown in the election process, unrestricted freedom allowed to the incumbent and harassing the opponents and violating their fundamental rights would eventually end up in a total breakdown of our society. Leaving the country to be run by one single family, its cohorts and henchmen and incompetent and spiritless bureaucrats would indeed be a national calamity. If the last five years are of any measure and if the way in which the incumbent has been conducting affairs of government is any yardstick, it is not so difficult to predict what would follow if the Rajapaksas are re-elected this time. The manner in which his henchmen have been shamelessly executing government decisions and the way in which the infamous Bodhu Bala Sena and its chief spokesperson’s shameless expression of ‘un-endorsing endorsement’ of the Rajapaksa candidacy being uttered leaves the reasonable voter bewildered and stunned.
Yet, all seem to agree that, on paper, this election is Maithripala’s to lose. But elections are not fought and lost or won on paper. The grueling campaigns that test the will and doggedness of the candidates, might eventually catch up with amateurs getting bogged down while taking the determined to the winning post. We are already into the second week of the campaign. While both candidates are whistling across the country’s electoral map, their respective support groups are equally busy crafting and releasing propaganda material. The voter is yet waiting; some with a hope that the time has come for a change while others have opted to remain hoodwinked by the Goebbels-like false propaganda of the Rajapaksas. On the social media front, the Rajapaksas are being clobbered, almost 90% to 10% in favor of Maithripala Sirisena. But Maithripala-supporters must realize that the domain of the computer is not restricted to Sri Lanka. In the global marketplace where those who have no vote in Sri Lanka too are participating in computer polls. Those results don’t mean a thing. No identifiable company or entity has released any local poll results. But I’m sure both parties would have done their own internal polling and the results used to refine and fine-tune their respective political strategies and tactics.
But the most pressing question that dominates, not only the Colombo-based conversation but also the day-to-day exchange of opinions and ideas in the rural hamlets in the country is whether the election would be rigged by the powers that be. No strategy, tactic or electioneering engineering could wipe out rigging one hundred percent. One must provide for a fairly small percentage of rigging, both at the polling stations and counting centers. But the people’s nagging question whether the declared result would differ from the actual vote is a very serious phenomenon and cannot be swept away as insignificant. Such a lingering thought that the Rajapaksas would remain in power despite a defeat at the elections should be quelled at its birth itself. Such negative thought processes must be countered only by assuring the voter that it wouldn’t be so.
How can the Opposition do this? As at now, when one looks into the constituent Opposition political parties that are engaged in the campaign, the efforts of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) stand out, eclipsing even those of the United National Party (UNP). The general lethargy and complacency that had had a killing effect on its advance during the last twenty years seems to be still continuing. However, thanks mainly to the appointment of Kabir Hashim as the new General Secretary of the UNP, the dilemma that most UNP MPs and organizers suffered during the last two decades should gradually evaporate. Both the UNP and JHU, unlike the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), are open political parties. People can join and leave these parties at will and strict codes of discipline which were the usual character of left-leaning political parties, especially of the JVP are absent. The UNP and the JHU can very well afford to discuss their policies and to some extent, even their execution strategies with their membership and support groups openly. Yet what is required in order to counter the fear that the people express as regards the honesty of the electioneering process from polling to counting and declaration of the results are the measures adopted to counterbalance the anticipated rigging and forgeries. All measures must be in place to get the voter to the polling booth.
If that happens and in the event the counting process could be assessed and monitored fairly scrupulously, the only hitch would be the actual declaration of the ultimate result. This is where, I hasten to remind the reader of the post-election episodes in the Philippines. The elections in the Philippines were held on February 7, 1986.The official election canvasser, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), declared Marcos the winner. The final tally of the COMELEC had Marcos winning with 10,807,197 votes against Aquino’s 9,291,761 votes. On the other hand, the final tally of the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), an accredited poll watcher, had Aquino winning with 7,835,070 votes against Marcos’ 7,053,068 points. Cheating was reported on both sides. This electoral exercise was marred by widespread reports of violence and tampering of election results.
The failed election process gave a decisive boost to the “People Power movement.” At the height of the revolution, Juan Ponce Enrile revealed that a purported and well-publicized ambush attempt against him years earlier was in fact faked, in order for Marcos to have a pretext for imposing martial law. However, Marcos never ceased to maintain that he was the duly elected and proclaimed president of the Philippines for a fourth term, but unfairly and illegally deprived of his right to serve it. On February 25, 1986, rival presidential inaugurations were held. The rest, as they say, is history.
Only the people can prevent any type of large-scale rigging.