Govt. Has Successfully Concluded World’s First Hi-Tech Election Rigging Operation — Mangala
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
SLFP (M) Wing Leader and Co-media Spokesperson for General Sarath Fonseka, Mangala Samaraweera charged that software/paper rigging finally changed an approximately 1.5 million vote victory for General Sarath Fonseka into a 1.8 million majority for President Rajapaksa. He said this “is perhaps the first successfully carried out software/paper rigging in the world.”
Q: General Sarath Fonseka’s camp has said the polls were rigged. On what basis do you make this allegation?
A: We have many reasons to believe the election was manipulated in the most insidious and subtle manner to distort the true mandate of the people. I would accuse the government of concluding successfully what I would term the world’s first hi-tech election rigging programme. The details of which are beginning to emerge. Before I get into that I would like to highlight some of the more conventional types of election malpractices and irregularities of this scandalous election.
People will realise one day soon that this election was perhaps the most outrageous and insidious election ever held in a country which claims to be democratic. Once the true details emerge, the world will realise that this election is even more shocking than the notorious election held in November 1933 under Adolf Hitler in Germany, which is seen by many historians as one of the most scandalous elections ever. Hitler claimed that 96% of the voters had voted for him and amazed the world by even claiming that 2,100 of the 2,300 inmates at the Dachau concentration camp voted for him.
Q: Yes, but on what basis do you make this allegation?
A: Before I explain this very serious and complex picture of vote rigging, I must say this is not at all a case of sour grapes and to justify the defeat of our candidate. In my 21-year-old political career I have never resorted to justifying our political setbacks before by making allegations against the victor. However, this time there are serious questions now surfacing and these questions need to be answered before we can be convinced with the claims of victory.
I will start off with the mundane. First the mood of the country — Did the people of our country act in a manner they should after giving the President a resounding victory? The majority of the people were shocked and stunned by the announcement, while small pockets of supporters led by a few UPFA PS members took to the streets in intoxication. What was most indicative of what may have happened was the Election Commissioner’s statement on January 27 announcing the final results. I would ask people to read his statement carefully and read between the lines.
To me the statement is more a cry for help from a man held hostage with a gun at his back than an official statement proclaiming the victory of President Rajapaksa. I would like to highlight that at one point he says, “Now on certain occasions we can’t even protect our ballot boxes. This is a big situation. A wrong situation. Because of this I’m sad to say I have had to work in great difficulty.” Leaving aside the other extremely serious allegations, which are emerging, this statement by the Elections Commissioner alone would have been enough to declare the election null and void in any other country which is truly a practicing democracy.
He also talks about the unprecedented misuse and abuse of state properties and resources at this election. The misuse of public funds is well documented in the Transparency International report recently. He also highlights how he was totally helpless in the face of the despicable and totally partisan media onslaught by SLRC, SLBC and other state media. Despite appointing a Competent Authority under powers vested with him, he had to withdraw the Competent Authority in a most shocking manner.
Even on the day of the election, state media was campaigning for Mahinda Rajapaksa with advertisements and other programmes. These allegations in themselves would be enough to disqualify the President in an election petition if we really had a truly free judiciary. Unfortunately, we have to remember the present Chief Justice has also been appointed in total violation of the constitutional requirements.
However, the country cannot wait for the court ruling because what finally changed an approximately 1.5-million-vote victory for General Fonseka into a 1.8 million vote majority for President Rajapaksa in the early hours of the morning is perhaps the first successfully carried out software/paper rigging in the world.
Q: Does the opposition have proof that there was software/paper rigging?
A: We don’t have proof at the moment. As I said earlier details are emerging and there are many questions that require answers. The international election observers who were here have apparently issued a report claiming the polling day was violence-free and extremely peaceful, and concluded that the election was free and fair. These monitors who issued such a report after spending a few days, most of which were spent wining and dining at events organised by the government, had made some senior members of the delegation say this was the best-paid holiday they have received.
The election day was relatively free of violence, although there were government-inspired grenade attacks and artillery firing in the north. In their master plan they did not want the software rigging operation in the north, but were only interested in reducing the majority of Sarath Fonseka in the north and east by keeping the voter turnout low. In their master plan they had already decided to allow Fonseka to gain a victory in the north and east in order to back up their allegation of him only having the support of LTTE sympathizers in the north.
At the beginning of polling it was planned to show Fonseka in the lead in the north while the rest of the country gave a massive endorsement of Mahinda Rajapaksa. We now believe that the results were changed with the connivance of certain senior counting officers in the District Secretariats with whose help the final numbers of the tally sheets were heavily inflated in favour of Mahinda Rajapaksa. We are also receiving information on how these counting officers were handpicked by Basil Rajapaksa before the elections. We are in the process of getting concrete proof about this shocking operation. Until such time as we will have those in hand I will say with responsibility and gravity that this was one of the most sophisticated poll-rigging programmes carried out anywhere in the world.
Q: Are you saying there was no rigging on ground level during the polling period?
A: The traditional, crude forms of rigging never took place where armed hooligans show up in booths and stuff boxes. On the other hand even the polling day was violence-free. Like in the Zimbabwean elections, most violence took place in the run-up to the election. Goon squads operated by Colombo were based in various parts of the country. In Matara alone these squads, handled by the officer-in-charge of the Gemunu Watch along with two relatives of the President, roamed the area in government vehicles with impunity carrying arms.
They threatened opposition supporters with death and several times came near my house and shot in the air. Despite repeated complaints to the police with even their names, they turned a blind eye. Finally, when a police officer arrested a vehicle with armed thugs and remanded them, the thugs were released the following day because of “orders from above.” The respective police officer was questioned by the CID for carrying out his duties. I wrote a letter to the IGP on January 22 with details and names of the culprits, and in response the police raided my house in Matara, searching for weapons.
There were two other forms of rigging at the election. One was the issuing of temporary IDs. The Elections Commissioner ordered the issue of 2.1 million IDs. They were to be issued through the Samurdhi officers, but when the opposition complained it was decided to issue them through the Grama Sevakas. We are now receiving information that apart from the 2.1 million approved ID cards, thousands of false ID cards have been issued to trusted party people. These have been issued in place of dead persons and those who have gone overseas. We believe there might have been 400,000-500,000 votes rigged in this manner. The ID card machine and the laminating machine it is learnt were taken to Temple Trees in the run up to the elections.
Another method that was used, again not at the polling booth but at the counting centers, is to change the bundles. When counting, ballot papers are divided according to symbols and packed into bundles of 50. If a betel leaf ballot paper is placed on top of a swan symbol bundle, that bundle is counted as a betel leaf bundle. This was noticed in certain areas.
Q: In which areas were there malpractices recorded during counting?
A: It happened even in Matara. For example, 20 bundles are a few thousand votes. The coup de grace, however, was the massive operation which was carried out. We will come out with the details. My life is in grave danger, but I am confident that we will be able to come out with the details. There are so many questions that need to be answered:
Why did SLRC send its staff on leave on the 26th and 27th and operate for two days through an OB bus from Temple Trees? The usual practice has always been that before any media institution can give results a copy of the results certified by the Elections Commissioner has to be sent. Why were computer generated results sent this time?
Usually postal results are out by 2 am and the rest of the results start to come in. This time the postal votes took so long that electoral results got delayed; why did the voter turnout, which was announced by the district secretaries in some districts, increase dramatically when the final results were announced? Why did Basil Rajapaksa spend so much time with the Elections Commissioner? According to information, he had been with the Elections Commissioner since 3 pm.
We have reason to believe that the Elections Commissioner was put under duress to release the certified results against his wishes.
Q: The opposition camp has also said polling agents at counting centers were assaulted and chased away. Have those agents made official complaints?
A: I’m not sure that official complaints were made. They were attacked and chased away. They were not in a proper state to make complaints. Most of the representatives in counting centers were chased away at the time the hi-tech conspiracy was taking place.
Q: What action does the opposition plan to take with regard to the alleged poll rigging?
A: The opposition must first keep the people informed. Many are asking why the opposition is not on the streets with the people protesting. We will also take this to the people and try to deal with this great conspiracy at different levels. While protesting with the people, we will file a presidential election petition for what it’s worth. We will keep the international community informed of these developments and will also ensure that such insidious acts against the people’s mandate will not be repeated during the general election. We are trying to get to the bottom of this terrible crime so that we can prove to our people what really happened.
Q: How long would it take for the opposition to gather the necessary proof to take action?
A: We will try to do it in the shortest possible time. It’s going to be a very dangerous investigation because we are dealing with a regime prepared to kill, maim, intimidate or threaten to hang on to power. What is remarkable is that the President is not behaving like a man who has gained such a remarkable victory. Even during a statement made after the results he looked guilty and dared not look at the cameras, which made me realise that he still may have a conscience. The Rajapaksa regime has already started a witch-hunt against their political opponents. Sarath Fonseka is being harassed in the most shameful manner. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s security is being removed, my house was raided on the 27th and my colleague Upulangani Malagamuwa’s house was stoned by government-sponsored mobs.
Q: What will General Fonseka do now?
A: Fonseka has the ideal qualities needed for a politician. He also has the charisma and personality to attract the people. That is why I feel that while fighting to regain the position he rightfully deserves he must remain in politics and come forward at the next general election on behalf of the millions of people who voted for him.