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20th June 1999

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Front Page
Mirror Magazine

    The victor and the vanquished

    The dust may have settled on the southern polls, but that does not mean that the retrospective appraisal of the election process should end there. Almost all parties to the contest in the south and impartial election monitoring bodies have agreed that the Southern election was leagues ahead of the others held earlier in terms of ensuring law and order and keeping the peace.

    It is known that the government in its post-election wisdom attempted to eke out the maximum propaganda advantage arising from this fact. The PA victory in the South was hailed at one point as a "double whammy'' for the PA, as the alliance had won the elections and won another victory by ensuring a clean poll despite difficulties in the earlier elections on the latter count.

    It is not to begrudge the PA's own attempts at public relations to say that the PA seems to be searching for victories where they do not exist. The so-called PA victory was not exactly one that the party can afford to crow about from rooftops, as it was tantamount to a statistical comeuppance that looked good on paper but looked rather like a setback in reality. The PA vote banks have eroded thanks largely to the gains made by the JVP, and its victory margin was so thin that the party has effectively lost control of the province. Any vote that has to pass in the Southern provincial Council is dependent on whether the UNP and the JVP members vote with the government that is some victory for the People's Alliance, looked at in this context.

    In these circumstances, the PA deserves some measure of sympathy for searching for another victory that wasn't quite theirs. This is the "victory'' in terms of ensuring a relatively peaceful and orderly election. The rightful ownership of that victory vests with the Southern range police, and particularly the Deputy Inspector General who weathered among other things a semi strength storm cum typhoon in the form of a government Minister who walked into the police election office and harangued him for having a truck with the opposition party.

    The Minister concerned has hence denied in parliament some aspects of this outburst, but he has not denied the allegation that he walked into the police office to complain against one of the subordinate officers of the DIG. Though the Minister does not seem to think so, that explanation doesn't quite absolve him of attempting to interfere with the police machinery while the election was in progress.

    Whatever the law may say or whatever convention may dictate on the matter, it should be almost axiomatic that a Minister has no place in the police station while an election is going on. Though this may sound ridiculous from a strictly theoretical point of view, it should be more than obvious that the atmosphere that prevailed at the last election was such that no effort can be considered too much in ensuring that undue pressure is not brought to bear on public officials engaged in the legitimate duty of ensuring a free and fair election.

    Probity has different dimensions and in these circumstances, the proper thing to do was to lodge a regular police entry if the Minister felt he had a grievance against a subordinate police officer of the DIG.

    By walking into the police office, the Minister tried to circumvent the process, and make use of his not inconsiderable weight as a Minister to harangue the senior police brass. What he expected as a result of this pep talk is best left to the imagination, but suffice to say that the spectacle and the police officer's rejoinder merely underscored the admirable work of the Southern range police, amidst all kinds of odds that were stacked against them at this last election.

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