Jilmaat: Ethics and dangers  of political exploitation


Somawansa Amarasingha

I wish to draw the attention of the reading public to the news item appearing in the Island of the 19th inst., under the caption, "Jilmaat: JVP disputes Sirisena’s claim". The news had attracted public attention so much, that by 9.00 PM, 4549 persons had read it in the internet, whereas an average news story does not normally find more than a few hundred online readers. Evidently the impact of the news would be widespread.

I have no personal interest in any of the characters associated with the story but as a retired public servant, who had had much to do with elections in his time, I am concerned about the negative impact the claim could have in the minds of the general public on the efficiency and the integrity of the Public Service. Worse than that, the loss of confidence in the system created by such an accusation could dismantle the machinery of government, in the long run. Anyone making such a serious allegation has to bear full responsibility for the statement and establish it on proven facts. Though the immediate target of the accusation might have been the Government in power, the allegation ultimately boils down to a stigma on the Public Service.

After the 2010 Presidential Election

There was a hue and cry about ‘Computer Jilmaat’ soon after the 2010 Presidential Election. While the country was stunned by the allegation, I made the following comment in my opinion, ‘Eagle eye replaced by the system’, published in the Island on 01.02.10. "When I handled the 1970 Election in Trincomalee, there were strict procedural rules covering every aspect of the count. Ballots were first tallied with the returns from polling stations, separated under the symbols, made into bundles of fifty which were totted up to get at the final result. Each of these steps was checked and rechecked by at least three officers up the hierarchy. By then, the Counting Hall contained hundreds of officials and candidates' representatives who were breathing down the counters' necks. There was hardly any way to falsify the result and get away.

The system would have been further tightened thereafter by successive Commissioners benefiting from their long experience and the advent of computers. I dare say that their voluminous and copious circulars leave no room for hanky-panky any more. Besides miscounting a majority of over 1.8 million votes under this sophisticated system would have been a task beyond even a Gogiya Pasha. Nevertheless it is in the interest of Democracy, to clear all suspicions about an election. The 'Ballot' is the bedrock on which Democracy stands and when that base is shaken by doubt, the country at large suffers embarrassment in the eyes of the international community.

Therefore it behoves those who have any reasonable doubts about vote rigging at the last Presidential Election to go before the Supreme Court under Article 130 of the Constitution to clear them legally in public."

A few days after my article appeared, the ever-vigilant Editor of the Island editorially commented on a point I had overlooked in my piece. He said copies of the results declared at each Counting Center were available to the Opposition and if there was a discrepancy between the grand total of the Centers and the declared result, the country would have been under a riot by then.

Check before comment

In fact, General Fonseka himself had stated at a recent political meeting that there had been no ‘Jilmaat’ at the election concerned. This position had been confirmed by the Presidential Candidate Maithripala Sirisena, according to the above Island report which goes on to add, "Addressing the media at the party head office yesterday JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva said that nobody could claim that there had been no computer fraud (‘Jilmaat’) because no formal investigation had been conducted into that allegation." Investigations are not held ex mero motu. They have to be called for by an aggrieved party. But, no such challenge has been made before any court by any party, as far as I am aware. No responsible person who slept over the issue at the relevant time has a moral right to talk about it four years later.

The argument used to justify the claim appears to beat all known rules of logic. The news item adds, "Silva said that former JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe had made the ‘jilmaat’ allegation because the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had told Amarasinghe and him at Temple Trees in the run up to the 2005 Presidential Election about some ‘jilmaat’ at the 2004 General Election in the Hambantota District. Comrade Amarasinghe’s allegation was based on Rajapaksa’s statement and none can say a fraud did not happen." In terms of the protester’s own position, a Jilmaat that took place elsewhere, a year back, cannot be taken for granted on the unconfirmed and uncorroborated word of a single individual, without proper investigation. Further, supposing for the sake of argument, that there actually was a ‘Jilmaat’, how can an individual’s ex post facto statement be taken as conclusive proof of what happened six years later at a different location, under varied conditions, involving diverse participants?

Prevention is better than complaint

It is the duty of a politician to stand by when the Public Service is at work and help to avert possible mistakes and shortcomings, - not to cry after the milk is spilt. How many of the ‘Jilmaat Critics’ actually watched the operation of the connected count? I remember one politician, who contested at the 1970 election, was enjoying himself at a Rest House, while I as the Government Agent, spent a sleepless night supervising the count personally. But soon after I declared him elected, the politician rushed to the telephone to ask the new Prime Minister to transfer the GA out immediately, as he was partial to the other side, thus repeating a claim of the other side made up to the day of the Election. Certainly being a public servant is a thankless job, as the Commissioner of Election might have discovered by now.

Upsetting national equilibrium

It is not my intention here to go into the mysteries of political logic. As stated at the beginning, my prime purpose is to avert a possible reflection cast on the efficacy of the Public Service by irresponsible allegations. It is the Public Service that stood by the people all over the island to protect the integrity of the nation through decades of confusion, created by short-sighted policies of self-seeking politicians, while the latter were ‘lying’ securely in their guarded citadels. Let not the contribution of that Service be belittled by irresponsible allegations on the Order they have endeavoured to preserve amidst tremendous obstacles. From the national perspective, doubts thus created demolish public trust in the system, leading to indiscipline and disorder that could ultimately damage the entire social fabric.

Somapala Gunadheera


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