The Batticaloa mini polls have left the government cock-a-hoop, the NGO fraternity crestfallen, the LTTE irate and the UNP disappointed. The government has every good reason to preen itself on the polls outcome both politically and militarily. It has gained a tremendous boost for its southern political project by clearing the Eastern Province and successfully conducting an election in Batticaloa, besides bagging the Batticaloa Municipal Council. The military icing on its political cake is that the LTTE failed to scuttle the polls, contrary to anticipation in some quarters that the Tigers would pull a rabbit out of their hat at the last minute. The electoral victory of the Karuna Group has obviously perturbed the Tigers more than their military losses in the East.
The government s gain is the UNP s loss and, therefore, the latter s angry rejection of the election results is something to be expected. It has dismissed the election as a sham aimed at misleading the international community and made an issue of a blackout at the counting centre. That power failure harks back to the 1983 Mahara by-election, where present UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe supported the UNP candidate Kamalawarna Jayakody to the hilt. The Opposition candidate was Vijaya Kumaratunga. The UNP left no stone unturned in its effort to win that crucial election which it couldn t afford to lose. An attempt was made on Vijaya s life. He escaped death because one of his loyalists jumped before the bullet and got killed in the process. Vijaya was roughed up on several occasions in the run up to the polls, which turned out to be a battle against the Opposition. While the votes were being counted, it was clear that Vijaya was leading despite all the rigging by the UNP. A recount was called. And, then there occurred the infamous blackout of Mahara. When power was restored, Jayakody had won by a narrow margin. It was clear that votes had been tampered with during the blackout. The UNP used the same tactics at the by-elections in all other electorates including Mulkirigala, where it used convicted rapist cum contract killer Gonawala Sunil, who had helped it win the Mahara electorate, to keep the SLFP at bay.
At the 1982 Presidential Election, SLFP Presidential Candidate Hector Kobbekaduwa had to face many an obstacle both from within the party and the UNP, which was in the attack mode. On the election day, he walked to the polling booth to find that his vote had already been cast! That was perhaps a world record! The 1982 Referendum, with which the UNP replaced a general election to retain its five-sixths majority in Parliament, saw widespread violence and rigging. Ballot boxes were stuffed in such a way that in many of them there were bundles of ballot papers with counterfoils! (The ruling party goons had been in a hurry!) The JRJ government won the referendum and extended its parliamentary term by six more years.
The 1981 District Development Council polls not only made this country a pariah in the eyes of the democratic world but also gave a fresh impetus to a process that later developed into a full-blown war. Desperate to secure a few seats in Jaffna, the JRJ government unleashed the police, the army and goons on the TULF in a bid to achieve that objective. UNP thugs torched the majestic Jaffna Library, the pride of the Tamil community. TULF Leader A. Amirthalingam was arrested and held incommunicado. Later, in response to a request from Mrs. Amirthalingam, President Jayewardene ordered his release claiming the arrest had been a mistake! (He made many such costly mistakes for which we are still paying.) The UNP still faced an ignominious defeat at the hands of the TULF.
The TULF, despite its Vadukkodai Resolution of 1976, had accepted devolution through DDCs but the UNP, instead of helping the Tamil moderates have representation in those institutions, drove them to an extreme. This is what former Senator S. Nadesan said, one year after the DDC election, at a seminar in Colombo: `On the day before the election, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, on the orders of the President, had given certain directives to the returning officer. One hundred and fifty presiding officers at the polling booths had been removed and others were substituted. Some of the substitutes were peons in government offices who knew nothing of election procedure. At the end of the poll six ballot boxes were missing.`
Ironically, the UNP tried to do at the DDC election in Jaffna exactly what the SLFP did in Batticaloa the other day! It strove to gain a foothold in Jaffna. It failed but the SLFP succeeded in Batticaloa.
The Presidential and Parliamentary elections held by the UNP in the late 1980s were a far cry from free and fair polls. The JVP was all out to sabotage them through unbridled violence aggravated by the UNP s counter terror. The reign of terror stood the UNP government in good stead at those elections. The voter turnout was extremely low (55 per cent) at the Presidential Election (1988). UNP goons had a field day and Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa became President. The UNP had won the Provincial Council election held earlier that year in a similar manner.
So, how can the UNP justify the reasons it has given for boycotting the Batticaloa mini polls or rejecting its outcome?
Does this mean the SLFP is not capable of such dastardly acts? Here is the SLFP s report card . The massacre of ten Muslim youth supporters of the SLMC at Udathalawinna at the 2001 General Election is proof of the SLFP s capacity for violence and election rigging. It was at the 1999 Wayamba election that the UNP met its match in the SLFP. It was not an election but a massive plunder of votes. Polling agents were chased away and elections officers as well as the police ordered to look the other way, while SLFP goons stuffed ballot boxes. They not only assaulted UNP supporters but stripped men and women naked and paraded them on public roads! Thus, the SLFP-led People s Alliance (PA) scored a cakewalk.
Thugs had been sent to Wayamba from many electorates including the then Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa s stronghold. One of the gangs wreaking havoc there was led by a violent cattle thief turned SLFP politician Chandi Malli, who later died the way he lived. Mangala Samaraweera, a powerful minister of President Chandrika Kumaratunga s government at that time, led the PA s campaign. This is what we said in these columns in the aftermath of the 2001 General Election marred by violence and rigging: `What these thugs were capable of was manifest in the manner in which the Wayamba election was fought in 1999. Widespread violence, massive rigging and a plethora of other offences went unheeded by the government despite public outcry and mass protests. Those who launched Operation Wayamba were emboldened by the refusal of the PA leadership to take action against them. Then came other elections and Kandy became the hotbed of PA-instigated violence. But, the Kandy based political high-muck-a-muck responsible for violence and election rigging not only went Scot free but continued his sordid operations openly with his private army. Had the PA taken action against him and his bogeymen earlier, perhaps the massacre of Muslim youth there on the polls day could have been averted.`
During all the elections held under the PA administration, Hanguranketha organised for the SLFP by the then Minister S. B. Dissanayake was one of the electorates worst affected by violence and election malpractices. SB delivered so many votes to the PA from various parts of the country through such reprehensible methods that he came to be dubbed the PA s chanda mashima or the Voting Machine . Interestingly, today, Mangala and SB are with the UNP which also has the blessings of former President Kumaratunga. UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella, who has dismissed Monday s polls as a sham was a prominent minister of the Kumaratunga government during Operation Wayamba!
The SLFP also has created history in this country by extending a parliamentary term by one year without an election or a referendum from 1976 to 1977.
The report cards of the UNP and the SLFP being such, the question is whether any member of those two parties we will discuss the performance of the JVP and the TNA later can call Monday s LG polls or any other election a sham? If they think they can hoodwink the discerning people in this country, they are sadly mistaken.