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Cometh the best man forward

The Opposition's brouhaha over last week’s polls results is bound to fizzle out sooner or later with or without an election petition being filed, when the futility of their venture sinks in. But, its unsubstantiated allegations of a computer fraud and switching of bundles of ballots at counting centres are likely to tarnish the image of the country and cause some erosion of public confidence in the electoral process. Worse, their claim of mass scale election malpractice is tantamount to an affront to Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake and his staff.

Some western governments have expressed concern over the allegations at issue and a foreign ambassador is reported to have audaciously inquired about the Opposition's claim from a senior minister. She is lucky that the present government has chosen to act with restraint. The late President Ranasinghe Premadasa, it may be recalled, had a British High Commissioner (David Gladstone) declared persona non grata for having protested against vote-rigging at an election in the South. He was sent back home unceremoniously. President J. R. Jayewardene took a US diplomat to task for 'talking out turn' at a social gathering; JRJ was furious about an adverse remark the diplomat concerned had made on the infamous Referendum (1982).

Before Jan. 26 polls, the Elections Commissioner warned the presidential candidates through the media not to trot out 'foolish excuses' after being defeated, because all measures had been adopted to prevent polls rigging. But, the Opposition cannot afford to concede defeat since the forthcoming general election is a frightening proposition for it. It is aware that the outcome of parliamentary polls to be held will be far more devastating than that of the presidential election, like the second wave of Tsunami. Its real strength has been exposed and its hero is lying supine. A debilitated JVP apparently fears a whitewash and the UNP has betrayed its impotence by contracting a political hit man to take on President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the recent presidential contest. Hence, their obtuse attempt to make a fig leaf out of an imaginary computer fraud. (A wag says it is a damn shame for the hi-tech savvy Kollupitiya boys to claim that their Kurakkan-eating Medamulana counterparts have beaten daylight out of them technologically!)

This is what a former civil servant with decades of experience in conducting polls–Somapala Gunadheera–said about the Opposition's claim at issue, in an article in this newspaper on Monday: "Miscounting a majority of over 1.8 million votes under this sophisticated system would have been a task beyond even a Gogia Pasha." He, however, said that it was in the interest of democracy to clear all suspicions about an election. "In any case," he concluded, "if no legal action is initiated within a week or two, the voters may justifiably presume that the allegation of vote rigging is withdrawn." As he rightly pointed out 'it is not fair that a country's reputation is left hanging indefinitely.' These words of wisdom must be heeded.

Since the JVP, the UNP, the SLMC and the TNA claim that election results were manipulated, they must be asked to provide specific instances in support of their claim. They had their counting agents throughout the country and none of them, as far as we are aware, raised objections before the announcement of results at counting centres. They duly signed relevant documents accepting official results which were subsequently released to the general public and gazetted. The Opposition must be able to name at least one counting centre affected by polls malpractice, if any.

The onus is on Somawansa Amarasinghe, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sarath Fonseka, Mangala Samaraweera, Rauff Hakeem, R. Sampanthan, Mano Ganeshan et al to substantiate their allegations by citing instances of polls rigging.

The Polls Chief is scheduled to meet the press today. This meeting is somewhat overdue. It behoves him to brief the media, field questions and allay whatever doubts the public may have of the legitimacy of the outcome of last week's presidential election because of the Opposition's protests. It will be interesting to know what he has got to say about the allegations the Opposition top guns are peddling to save their face at his expense.

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