By Kumar David –
Post-election violence is not uncommon in many countries – including Sri Lanka – when there is a change of government or incumbent President. The worst in our case was 1977. Often those who have been out of power and reckon they have been suppressed feel a spontaneous burst of energy and a desire to teach “those buggers who have kept us down” a lesson. Apart from this there is organised thuggery by insider black-hands of the winning side. These two motivators add up.
If Gota wins there could be some spontaneous “pay back” activity (less if Sajith wins because there is government continuity and therefore less need to “pay back”). Don’t get me wrong, I am not alleging Gota or his lieutenants are planning anything; such things happen spontaneously when there is regime change. Or semi-regime change; if Gota wins, only presidency, not government changes.
Political leaders on both sides must take a firm line with their organisers and cadres well before election day to prevent this. With less than a week to go, that’s right now! “No violence!” instructions must go out from both high-commands NOW. The police must be given instructions to firmly put down trouble makers, arsonists and looters. Let’s not repeat JR’s abominable collusion in rioting in 1977 and 1983.
There is another unusual problem that may arise for the first time. It is simple to explain with an example. Imagine Gota wins a little over 45% of first preferences, Sajith a little less than 45% (together 90%); Anura plus Mahesh 9% and all the other jokers and midgets 1%. This is not my prediction or expectation; it’s an example for the purposes of illustration. (I am aware Gota is the front runner as of now but it is also said that he won’t clear 50% on first count). If first preference voting turns out like this, by mid-morning on 17 November tallying of second preferences will begin. Then I fear trouble.
The point is this. It is no secret that, to the extent that Anura’s and Mahesh’s voters cast a second preference, it is likely to be for Sajith not Gota. Imagine that of the 10% I have allocated to A+M+Jokers in this example, just half (5%) chose Sajith as second preference and Gota’s share is negligible. Assume the remaining 5% don’t mark a second preference at all. (Given a three-foot-long ballot paper, finding one’s first preference, leave alone a second is problematic enough!). Remember, if it goes to second preference counting anyone who does not cast a second preference does not exist! It’s as if he/she did not come to the polling booth. This means, to press on with my illustration, whoever gets just over half of the final valid 95% wins. I want to rub this in. If Gota’s vote is 47.5% first-preferences but negligible seconds, and Sajith’s 42.5% firsts and 5%+ seconds, hey presto Sajith is home and dry! Reminder: Though this is only an example it is not an unrealistic one. You can play with other number combinations and have fun.
The purpose of my example is not to annoy you with inanities. There is a point I want to make about inter-counting violence if it gets to that stage. The moment it is known (the news cannot be stopped from leaking out) that it has become necessary to count second preferences it will be a red-alert for Gota’s people. There will be agitation at street corners and at SLPP gatherings. The grassroots will be motivated to demonstrate and disrupt or influence counting. Allegations of fraud will fly like embers in a California wildfire. Plots are possible – recall poor Dayananda Dissanayake’s jillmart and rumours of his sojourn at Temple Trees!
Inter-counting disruption is more troubling than post-election violence because it could distort the result and the violence can become open-ended. On Sunday 3 November I listed trouble spots around the world where mass protests are out of control and a return to stability, in any form, seems improbable. In Bolivia, Morales’s victory though by a huge margin has not dampened unrest. Sri Lanka is quiet now because an election is pending and everybody thinks his/her side will win. If it seems things are going the other way, midway in the counting process, you know as well as I do what could happen. The public and the authorities can minimise violence and disruption by being vigilant and by preparing ahead.