Last week we discussed Rigging at Referendum and Wayamba PC elections, where mass scale stuffing of ballot boxes by governing party of supporters of SLFP had been witnessed and recorded by election monitors that included SAARC representatives who covered the polls at the invitation of Elections Commissioner.

As for British, during in its heydays, (the Empire sun never sets) they were so enthusiastic over our picturesque beauty and referred to Ceylon as, “The Pearl of the Orient”. They were so fond of Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was then known, the British admired the strength and steadiness of the Crown Colony of Ceylon. They appreciated our fluency in spoken English, settle in to the British school system, to cricket and rugger, and other finer points of the Western way of life; DS Senanayake’s friendly attitude and approach on freedom ‘struggle’. Based on above Sir Charles Jeffries, Under-Secretary for Colonial Affairs prepared a memorandum containing a very favourable account.

It stated, “Ceylon offers the classic example of how with good sense and benevolence two nations can carry through the enormously difficult and delicate conversion from a subject-ruler rapport to an equal partnership. It has been the model and prototype for the new Commonwealth optimistically in the latter half of the century. In Ceylon we British learnt, the art of Colonial administration by trial and error. They also learnt the astuteness of learning methodically the art of self-governance, which is basically a process of trial and error.”

Under the Donoughmore Constitution universal franchise became a gift to Ceylon in 1931. No Ceylonese leaders agitated for it in the Legislative Council, apart from a few lone voices. Thus we became the only colony in the British Empire that they selected to carry out the experiment in the nineteen thirties. Under universal franchise, the first General Election was held in 1931, just three years from it was introduced in Britain. The State Council replaced the Legislative Council as the legislature of Ceylon. The SC consisted of 50 elected by universal suffrage, Governor appointed 8 members plus three ex-officio. With high illiteracy rate of voter, a system was adopted to have separate ballot boxes for each candidate and painted in a specific colour allocated for each one. The boxes were kept inside a partitioned area, where the voter after collecting the ballot paper from the presiding officer had to walk into the enclosure and drop it into the box of his choice based on the colour.

Birth of vote rigging

Vote rigging in the island, with an eighty-year history is as old as the universal suffrage itself. The ‘smart’ candidate will have his agent or supporter who will approach the voters in advance and instruct the voter to refrain from dropping the paper in to the box but bring it out concealed within and collect a payment by handing it over to the agent of the candidate. A bundle of ballot papers collected in this manner will be given to a trustworthy voter during his turn to be put into the coloured box of the particular candidate. Owing to poverty 20-25 % of the voters became victims of this fraud. Even 15 to 20% is a considerable number that could decide the result in an election. Election misconduct are not new phenomenon, methods such as using elephants in remote areas to scare away the voters had been used in the early post-independence days of franchise.

New system in 1946: Symbol for each candidate

A commission appointed to propose remedial action to prevent this earliest form of vote rigging devised a system to overcome this fraud. Under the new system the voter will have to go to the booth and mark the ballot paper against the symbol allotted to each candidate and put it in to a Single ballot box which was kept at the presiding officer’s table so that it will not be possible to take the ballot paper out and sell it.

Just a little over a year after the previous elections in which PA led by President CBK, won the October 2000 Parliamentary election. The wafer-thin majority of her government and her fallout with trusted lieutenant SB Dissanayake over removal of some responsibilities (money spinners), back-stabbing and conspiracies reigned supreme leading to the fall of her government. People's Alliance (PA) government faced a blow when most of the SLMC MPs left the coalition. President Kumaratunga attempted to get the JVP to replace it, causing several PA ministers and MPs, thirteen of them led by SB, S. Amunugama, Bandula Gunawardena and GLP as planned defected to the opposition UNP compelling Kumaratunga to dissolve Parliament. Elections were held on December 5, 2001 which the UNP won.

Rigging, violence tarnish poll

More than 1,300 violent election-related incidents of were reported during the campaign. A suicide bomber made an attempt on Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake. Overall, 61 people were killed in violent acts, including 14 on polling day.

Thousands of Tamils were prevented from casting their ballots after the government blocked military checkpoints in the North and East as polling got underway. Defense officials declared the closure was intended to “ensure free and fair elections” by preventing penetration by LTTE disguised as voters. Voting in blood-soaked elections ended with administrators reporting a high turnout despite another vicious campaigns in the recent history. Local election monitors reported that government effectively disallowed about 75,000 Tamils from casting their votes. A team of observers representing the European Union and headed by John Cushnahan affirmed it stating, “This decision disenfranchised many thousands of voters which we believe will have a considerable impact on the results in these electoral districts.”

The Commissioner in his report on the Presidential Election 1988 and the Parliamentary Elections 1989, had identified politicians as the culprits who encourage election malpractices.

In his report on 1991 local government elections —he recommended the National Identity Card as a necessary step to avert large-scale rigging. The use of poor quality indelible ink that could easily be detached was a common problem identified by the commissioners. In the 1988 provincial elections, there were reports of pineapple juice being used to do away with the indelible ink enabling persons to cast more than once.

Establishment of Elections Commission

The large-scale frauds and malpractices first witnessed in Sri Lanka at the infamous 1982 referendum; and the trend growing in proportion with successive governments have been removed by the time Presidential election of January 8, 2015 was held; and under the new Elections Commission to greater extent — the February 10 Local Government elections held under Yahapalanaya recently had been described by monitors as the most free and fair polls ever held.



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