- Widespread Rigging Mars Opinion Poll
By Faraz Shauketaly
The Sunday Leader SMS/EMAIL poll of your preference for the next leader of the United National Party caused unprecedented interest – both from our readers and from the coterie of interested factions within the United National Party. Our poll, advertised and begun last Sunday, June 27th, when publishing the profiles of MPs’ Ravi Karunanayake and Sajith Premadasa, was an attempt to seek the opinion of each subject from amongst the people of this country.
Ours was most certainly a poll in which we asked readers to express their preference – their opinion – on who they would prefer to be the next leader of the UNP. Most people have an opinion. And in the interests of our readers we wished to merely showcase and publish public opinion.
The voting was steady and regular on Sunday itself. Noting extraordinary when compared to previous SMS polls also carried out by this newspaper. The same was true of Monday with a steady stream sending their SMSs marked with “RK” or “SP” – though one particular political mechanic started the proceedings with an opening SMS for “RW” – which our trusty laptop rejected with the message “invalid entrant not acceptable”.
On Tuesday Ravi Karunanayake called us. In the course of the conversation he asked of the progress of the poll and how it worked. Elementary dear Ravi, we said, just send in an SMS with RK.
What happened thereafter is a clear indication of the depths to which the UNP and its stalwarts have sunk today. In fact it speaks volumes for puerile and petty politicking of a kind that emphasizes the lows to which politicians will sink even when it involves a mere newspaper vote. After all, this was not a campaign for the next election.
Ravi K went into campaign mode immediately – less than 30 minutes after he called us a barrage of SMS votes started. The response was so tremendous that I had trouble keeping count. The “beeping” did not stop. It was nothing short of amazing.
Some people then started to call on the number given out by this newspaper. One in particular stands out. It went on these lines:
“Who is this?
Me: “The Sunday Leader, Faraz, who are you?”
“I just got an SMS from your number”
Me: “That’s not possible, I have not sent any SMS for a bit now are you sure? What does it say?”
“It says Vote RK and your number 0772334334 I don’t know what this is. Who are you?”
Me: “Aaaah! This is the Sunday Leader number used for a SMS Poll about the Leader of the UNP. Do you know Ravi Karunanayake?”
“Oh I see. I am Puspa Kumara. Aah Aaah, Mr Ravi Karunanayake is who I work for. Ok Ok Thank you aah.”
We undertook no marketing of the poll apart from inviting our readers’ participation in our profile of RK and SP last week. We expected that everyone would vote once by SMS. But there are always the “pandithayas” and the “clever clogs” of this world and Sri Lanka is no different: they started multiple voting – the same number sending many SMSs continuously. We had asked our readers to state “their preference” of either SP or RK. In the singular. In the absence of specific instructions to the contrary there were multiple entries. We thought it fair to leave those out. So we had multiple votes which we considered to be a crude version of vote rigging. In one instant 3 SMSs were received — individual SMSs were sent from the same phone but specifying a different name each time.
We accepted those because we felt the user had made a conscious decision about the use of the same number for voting three times over for his favourite SP. But we rejected the votes where there was clear multiplicity even the ones that voted 3 or 4 times. We detected 3 from Ravi Karunanayake’s own phone – that took the cake!
They came 1 singly and 2 in quick succession. Another SMS from the same last 6 digits as RK (indicating a different network ). We counted that separately by giving the benefit of the doubt to the batsman.
That was common with many — over 45% — sending in multiple votes 2 or 3 times. The prized goat in all of this was whoever the user is of the number that ends “0..2002002”. He or she sent in a total of 27 entries for RK; yet others of the same breed sent in 15, 12, and 11.
But user ending “0…..418209” got the prize for the person who expresses his opinion a record 40 times. He perhaps thought this was a song and dance popularity contest not a poll to test the opinion of the people of Sri Lanka on a matter that holds a pre-eminent position in people’s thinking during these heady months following polls and victory celebrations. It is almost as though, the opposition wish for the people of this country to take out a Writ of Mandamus to ensure compliance of the peoples’ rights. After all to enforce a Write of Mandamus, the applicant must show (a) a dereliction of duty that is of a public nature and (b) that that duty is imperative and not discretionary. The functions of the opposition amply exemplify those twin tests.
For his part the other subject of our profile, Sajith Premadasa appeared to be the least concerned about the poll. “Your poll is a useless exercise,” he said, adding “tell me how many people from Hambantota have voted?” Mr. Premadasa, you too seem to have missed the bus. This was an all island poll asking how many people figured you to be the most suitable to take over the leadership of the UNP. In that context, your concern should have included the ENTIRE country and not just Hambantota. Indeed, if you do make it to leader of the UNP you will be expected to represent the entire island and not just your electorate – Hambantota.
Nevertheless, given the zest by which Ravi Karunanayake mobilized those who work for him and others — going so far as to vote no less than three (3) times from his own mobile telephone we have to give credit to Sajith Premadasa. We did not detect a single vote from his telephone. We have truly descended to the very depths of fair play and sensibility when we are unable to seek the opinion of people in this country without political meddling tantamount to political debauchery. It is dis-tasteful in the extreme when such obstacles to accepted norms are placed by the opposition. It is little wonder then that there is strong currency for the case that “Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just.” (Blaise Pascal, Mathematician and Philosopher 1623 – 1662).
And the result?