Saturday 7th November, 2020
Unusual delays in vote counting have a corrosive effect on the credibility of the outcome of an election. The US was still awaiting the election of its next President, at the time of going to press. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the US like all other countries, and the delayed vote counting process would not have made such a stir if the White House had not made allegations of polls malpractices.
We thought the uncivilised practice of stealing elections was endemic to the developing world. We have experienced this blight on democracy firsthand. In 1982, the then UNP government stole a presidential election by stripping Sirima Bandaranaike, who would have been the Opposition candidate, of her civic rights and resorting to large-scale rigging and violence. It went on to cause a general election to disappear by means of a heavily rigged referendum. In 1988, another presidential election was stolen in the most despicable manner amidst JVP violence and counter-terror; the same fate befell a general election the following year. Perhaps, it was in 1999, under the Kumaratunga government, that the worst ever instance of stealing an election occurred in this country; Opposition polling agents were chased away and ballot boxes were stuffed in full view of the police during the North-Western Provincial Council election.
What is this world coming to when no less a person than the President of the US, which is the biggest exporter of democracy in the world, as it were, claims a US presidential election has been stolen? President Donald Trump repeated this very serious allegation, yesterday, making an official statement from the White House. Ironically, he was accused of winning the 2016 US presidential election with the help of Russians, of all people, and now he is accusing his rivals of having stolen the current election.
Truthfulness is not a trait Trump is known for. The same is true of some of his predecessors as well. Bill Clinton committed perjury, and George W. Bush fabricated a casus belli to invade Iraq, where the illegal War for Oil left hundreds of thousands of civilians including children dead. But the question is whether the incumbent US President’s complaints of election malpractices in his own country can be dismissed as baseless.
In his speech, yesterday, President Trump mentioned specific instances of what he called vote rigging. He said that in Pennsylvania the vote counting had been influenced by the ‘corrupt Democratic machine’. In Philadelphia, polls observers had been denied access to the counting centres, he claimed. When the Republicans successfully moved the courts, the observers had been accommodated but kept far away so much so that some of them had been compelled to use binoculars to watch votes being counted; then the counting officers had covered the windows blocking the observers’ view, the President said, insisting that there was no transparency in the counting process and electoral frauds were being committed behind closed doors. Millions of mail-in ballots had come after the Election Day without any verification of the signatures or even the eligibility of the voters concerned, he said, calling them mystery votes. The Democrats have pooh-poohed Trump’s allegations, but a protracted legal battle over the election is likely.
Trump, yesterday, promised a lot of litigation, and Democratic vice-presidential hopeful Kamala Harris has reportedly urged her party supporters to help the party financially in case the election is taken to the Supreme Court.
The Democrats and others are accusing President Trump of undermining the US electoral process. They may be justified in flaying him, but the serious electoral frauds he has alleged by citing specific instances ought to be probed and the truth got at for the sake of global democracy. If these allegations are dismissed as figments of Trump’s imagination, and no action is taken, the rulers in the not-so-mature democracies may feel called to emulate them, given their inclination to follow bad examples. It may be recalled that there has already been a call for adopting the US Electoral College mechanism here. Governments with steamroller majorities in this part of the world can be as dangerous as monkeys wielding straight razors.
Mountain in labour?
Friday 4th December, 2020
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry probing the Easter Sunday attacks is reportedly in the process of winding up, following two extensions of its term; everyone is eagerly awaiting its findings, conclusions and recommendations. There will not be enough time for some of the key witnesses whose statements have already been recorded by the police to appear before the commission, according to media reports. The commission must be having a valid reason for this, but it would have been better if all of them had been cross-examined thoroughly and more information elicited from them.
Besides the PCoI probe, several other investigations got underway into the Easter Sunday carnage. Little has been heard about them. What has become of them?
His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, addressing the media yesterday, urged the government to ensure that all probes into the Easter Sunday carnage would be conducted properly and nothing swept under the carpet. He said the authorities concerned should have the courage to find out who had been behind the attacks. Reminding the government of its pledge to have the terrorist bombings probed thoroughly, the Cardinal said that unless its promise was fulfilled, they would have to think of an alternative. He can rest assured that all Sri Lankans who abhor terrorism are on his side.
The Cardinal’s call for identifying those behind the bombings is of crucial import. He has made this call on previous occasions as well. He is not alone in believing that the terror strikes were part of an international conspiracy. Maithripala Sirisena, who was the President and Defence Minister at the time of the carnage, did not mince his words when he said before the PCoI, the other day, that there had been a foreign hand behind the bombings. Among those who insist that there was an external involvement in the Easter Sunday attacks are former SDIG CID Ravi Seneviratne and SLMC Leader and former Minister Rauff Hakeem, MP.
Strangely, the focus of none of the investigations into the bombings has been on the alleged foreign hand. Investigators seem to be wary of looking at the Easter Sunday attacks from this particular angle.
No probe into the Easter Sunday carnage can be considered complete unless the alleged foreign involvement therein is investigated fully. The focus of the probes into the Easter Sunday terror has been on identifying those who failed to stop the attacks. The blame for the country’s failure to prevent them should be apportioned to all yahapalana leaders, the police and intelligence agencies. They did not heed repeated foreign intelligence warnings of imminent terror attacks. They are now blaming one another, but it was their collective failure that enabled the NTJ to strike with ease. One may argue that all of them should be prosecuted. But that will not help neutralise threats to the country if the real mastermind of the attacks is not identified.
We have seen various probes under successive governments, but not much came of most of them. Worse, some Presidents ‘swallowed’ the probe reports submitted to them. The public who bore the cost of those investigations has been left in the dark. Some of those investigations which dragged on for months were like the proverbial mountain which went into labour and delivered a mouse. As for the ongoing probes into the Easter Sunday attacks, it is hoped that we will not be left with a tiny rodent again.
Recent judgments: Some queries
Thursday 3rd December 2020
Any judicial decision is always acceptable to only one party to a legal dispute; the winner hails it, claiming justice has been served, and the loser frowns on it and grumbles. That is the way the cookie crumbles. The judiciary, however, is not infallible, in any country, and concerns that the public expresses about its decisions should be heeded. In fact, judgments can be discussed and even criticised by the public but without causing affronts to the dignity of the judiciary and/or its members.
It is only natural that judgments in high-profile cases come under public scrutiny, and various views are expressed thereon. SJB MP Hesha Withanage, in Parliament, on Wednesday, raised a question about the judicial decisions that have attracted a lot of public attention of late. Referring to the recent judgments, given in favour of certain government politicians and their associates, he asked Minister of Justice Ali Sabry why other cases could not be similarly disposed for the benefit of the public so that the remand prisons would not be overcrowded. If all cases had been heard expeditiously, the unfortunate situation in the trouble-torn Mahara Prison, where hundreds of remandees are being held, would not have arisen, MP Withanage said. He was obviously viewing the issue from a political angle, and trying to embarrass the government, but his query may have struck a responsive chord with many people. He also provided the public, albeit unwittingly, with an opportunity to know the other side of the story.
Fielding Withanage’s query, Justice Minister Sabry said the anthropause caused by the prevailing pandemic had created a situation where court cases could not be heard, and, therefore, the Justice Ministry had requested the Judicial Services Commission to expedite the process of delivering judgments in the cases in which hearing had already been concluded. More than 70 judgments had been delivered recently, and the ones the Opposition was referring to were only a few among them, the Minister said, insisting that the government did not interfere with the judicial process.
Minister Sabry then got on his hobbyhorse; he lashed out at the previous regime for having manipulated the legal process and set up of the Financial Crime Investigation Division, etc., for that purpose. The less said about the Police Department, the better in that it is a mere appendage of the government in power. The same is true of the Attorney General’s Department, but incumbent AG Dappula De Livera deserves praise for trying to make a difference and standing up to the powers that be in carrying out his duties and functions. Unfortunately, he has not received enough support from the legal fraternity, the media, civil society organisations and the Opposition.
It is doubtful whether the discerning public will buy into Minister Sabry’s claim that the present government does not interfere with the legal process. Under the current dispensation, the police have shown their selective efficiency by concluding probes against Opposition politicians double-quick. They have also reopened some old cases where the political enemies of the current adminstration are involved. But they invariably baulk at executing arrest warrants when the suspects happen to be government politicians and those in the good books of the ruling party.
The judiciary is the only branch of government which people repose their trust in, and, therefore, extreme care must be taken to prevent an erosion of public faith therein lest democracy should be further weakened. Hence the need for the Justice Minister to support his claim that more than 70 judgments have been delivered in court cases during the recent past; he ought to release a list of those judicial decisions. That is the least the Justice Ministry can do to clear doubts in the minds of some people about the court cases the Opposition has referred to and defeat attempts being made in some quarters to cast aspersions on the judiciary.
A crime of utmost savagery
Wednesday 2nd December, 2020
The recent assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Prof. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, has shocked the civilised world and been rightly condemned as a dastardly act of terrorism. His killers left no clues as to their identities. Iran has blamed the US (which it calls ‘Global Arrogance’) and Israel. Its indignation is understandable.
Those who had Prof. Fakhrizadeh assassinated may have sought to demoralise Iran and scuttle its nuclear programme, but they seem to have only strengthened Tehran’s resolve to achieve its goal. The proliferation of nuclear weapons, no doubt, is an unnervingly frightening proposition, but the question is whether those who are all out to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear ambitions have cared to set an example by suspending the production of their nukes.
Most of the nuclear capable countries are run by bloodthirsty hawks who have engineered many wars and caused hundreds of thousands of civilians to be killed elsewhere. The world cannot be any more dangerous even if other states acquire nuclear capability. Nukes in the hands of any nation are dangerous. Those who already have huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, which are capable of blowing the planet several times over, will be without any moral right to try to prevent others from producing nukes so long as they do not decommission theirs and act responsibly without abusing their military might to dominate and exploit the world.
The non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is the goal the world must strive to achieve, but assassinating nuclear scientists is certainly not the way to set about it. Given the present global order, where might is right, for all practical purposes, it is only natural that the countries whose sovereignty and independence are threatened by meddlesome nuclear powers are trying to arm themselves with nukes. Iran is not alone in doing so. One may recall what Charles de Gaulle famously said: “No country without an atomic bomb could properly consider itself independent.”
Gone are the days when the US had the run of the world, so to speak. Now, it has formidable opponents. Try as it may, it cannot frighten China into submission either economically or militarily or otherwise, and Russia is also emerging powerful. The US and China are evenly matched in most respects so much so that the former has had to look for new allies or lackey states to retain its dominance of the international order. Worse, it has had to talk to the Taliban in a bid to wriggle out of the Afghan imbroglio. About a decade or so ago, who would have thought the US would ever negotiate with terrorists?
The world is changing fast, and so are geo-political dynamics and realities. The world history is replete with instances of mighty empires crumbling. The sun finally set on the British empire. Uncle Sam will show a clean pair of heels, given half a chance in Afghanistan, and has failed to humble the ‘Little Rocket Man’, who cocks a snook at Washington, at every turn, from his hermit kingdom. Those who are riding piggyback on the US or other powerful countries and resorting to aggression against their enemies had better be mindful of this reality, and act responsibly.
Iran should be dealt with diplomatically and must not be driven into a corner. Washington should not have withdrawn from the so-called Iran nuclear deal and opted for hostile action. President Donald Trump, who made that mistake, is on his way out, and how his successor, Joe Biden, widely considered a sensible leader, will handle the Iran issue is not clear.
One can only hope that Iran, which has not chosen its enemies wisely, will remain unprovoked in spite of its unbearable loss, desist from retaliation, which may be exactly what its enemies are waiting for, and deny the perpetrators of the dastardly crime of assassinating its much-revered scientist the pleasure of having a casus belli.
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