What’s in a name? It’s ‘touting’ season

2014-03-18 05:17:18

One of the ethical standards expected of all Attorneys-at-Law is that they refrain from “touting” work, which means canvassing people to retain them to render their professional services for fee or reward. This is an integral part of the code of ethics of Attorneys-at-Law. 

However, inasmuch as this stern injunction does not extend to “touting” votes, one often sees the ugly spectacle of allegedly eminent and senior Attorneys-at-Law touring the length and breadth of the country going to various courthouses for perhaps the only time in their lives, to canvass votes for office in the Bar Association! Thus, the election to office in the Bar Association depends not on the relative merits of the candidates as regards their suitability for the office to which they aspire but on how well they can persuade others to vote for them for whatever reason.

I distinctly recall one candidate for the office of President of the BASL who was a dyed-in-the-wool UNPer who held political office during JRJ’s regime sending a bouquet of flowers to Mrs. Bandaranaike while she was Leader of the Opposition, to curry favour with her and hence with members of her Party who were Attorneys-at-Law at the time of the BASL elections!! Of course that childish ploy did not work - for Mrs. B. was made of sterner stuff.

Indeed, the reasons why people vote for others at elections of the Bar Association was aptly categorised by my (now deceased) good friend and colleague, the late Ranbanda Seneviratne when he said “at Bar Association elections one does not cast one’s vote but one votes one’s caste”!

Is it the same considerations that apply in the international field?  To my mind it does so ‘in spades’. The current imbroglio which Sri Lanka is involved in the International field is the resolution being proposed by the United States of America and some of its many `hangers on’ seeking an international investigation into alleged `war crimes’ which are alleged to have been committed at the closing stages of our conflict with the LTTE which some people call the ‘war’. That the “touting” of votes goes on apace in respect of this election is made manifest by the uncontradicted news reports which have indicated that the United States of America with all its riches and might is now lobbying other countries to get their votes.  Whether one calls the “touting” of votes “lobbying” or “canvassing” or by any other term, let us not forget that “touting” or seeking to influence others to vote in a particular way for reasons other than objective merits of the purported “cause” in respect of which votes are sought is “touting” – with apologies to the Bard it would be appropriate to say “that which we call ‘excreta’ by any other name would stink as much”.

Sri Lanka too is not innocent of “touting”.  We have evidently sought to “tout” the votes of others by citing matters of total irrelevance to the resolution on which votes will have to be cast - such as our historical ties with various countries, membership of the Non-Aligned Movement etc.

If the resolution in question was proposed genuinely, namely, with a view to bring to book all those who violated the human rights of others in the course of this conflict,  then surely the State of India had to be one entity, the conduct of which cried out for an intensive probe.  It is no secret that India armed and trained  terrorists to commit acts of terrorism against us on our soil and that it was this Indian patronage that enabled the LTTE to commit and keep committing bestial acts of terrorism on people of all races, castes and creeds until they were soundly defeated on the battle field by our forces. Is this not an international crime of massive magnitude which cries out for investigation?  Apart from India there are the local actors who supported the bestiality of the LTTE without themselves firing a shot. 

There are for example the Tamil National Alliance and other Tamil politicians who supported the LTTE to the hilt while they were in power and now seek to distance themselves therefrom, and speak of abjuring violence in all its forms.   Apart from India, what have these local actors done??  They who include not merely the Tamil politicians particularly of the TNA but also the so called Tamil Diaspora and the Roman Catholic clergy of the North, including Bishop Rayappu Joseph, have supported or given succour to the LTTE directly and indirectly.  The TNA has openly stated that the LTTE were the sole representatives of the Tamil People. It following therefrom that according to the TNA and their political forebearers, every act of sabotage and every crime of whatever bestiality committed by the LTTE was committed by the Tamil people, a notion with which no Sinhala Nationalist would agree. Not one of these protagonists of the American resolution has seenfit to call for an investigation into the crimes committed by these people.  While the TNA and other such protagonists wax eloquent about the sufferings of the Tamils in the last stages of the `war’, complain  that they were trapped  for days on end on a thin sliver of land in Mullaitivu without adequate food, water, clothing, medicine and shelter,  not one of them, as far as I am aware, speaks of the fiendish conduct  of the LTTE which herded the helpless Tamil civilians  like cattle into this sliver of land and kept them there by force so as to use them for slave labour in their terrorist cadres and/or as human shields.  The TNA and the Roman Catholic clergy did not, as far as I am aware, do anything to prevent this outrage. Thus, while time and space do not permit me to detail all the matters that should be looked into if an impartial investigation whether by an international body or otherwise is to be held, they are matters of which no intelligent observer of the Sri Lankan scene can be unaware.

However, it is evident that the farcical election to be held in Geneva will not determine such matters and they would be irrelevant to the final outcome thereof.  As I see it, and judging from what goes on before it, the final outcome of the voting at Geneva will depend on how frightened the countries with votes are, of the might of the USA and/or how greedy they are for the crumbs that fall from the plate of that country. In other words the outcome will depend on the success or failure of American efforts to buy votes or to intimidate the voters into voting in favour of their resolution.
As observed above, Sri Lanka is no angel in this effort because we too have been seeking to “tout” votes - not on the basis of the issues that arise out of the resolution but on other grounds.
One country that has made evident the fact that it will vote for the US resolution because of internal domestic compulsions is India, which has openly stated that it has got to consider its domestic compulsions, meaning how many votes the ruling party would lose in Tamil Nadu if they opposed this resolution.  The incumbent Government of Manmohan Singh has shown its abject fear of the twin clowns of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi.  Today, one finds Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying as he did on the last occasion, that India had not decided which way to vote.  However this cannot be and I will bet my bottom dollar, that India will indisputably support the United States. The venality of the Indians and their shameless efforts to curry favour with the West are beyond dispute. Ultimately the decision at Geneva will depend on circumstances such as those which are far removed and wholly divorced from the merits or otherwise of the resolution.  The Indians, let us not forget, are responsible for the terrorism of the LTTE and hence for the sufferings of Sri Lankans of all races, castes and creeds during the armed conflict engineered by India. Let us also not forget that contrary to its loud protestations in that regard, India does not care one devalued cent for the fate, sufferings or welfare of the Tamils or any other Sri Lankans. Were it not so, would India not merely permit but overtly support the Indian robbers of the catch and hence the livelihood of indigent Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen? A further matter that will not in any way, figure in that decision is how impartial a foreign panel of judges or commission will be.  We have seen the so called impartiality of allegedly independent  and distinguished foreigners during the Udalagama Commission as well as by the malodorous performance of the Panel of so called Experts appointed by Ban Ki-moon.

I have seen it myself firsthand, and have as little or less faith in foreigners than I have in our local so called dignitaries.

The “touting” of votes does not go on apace only with regard to the imbroglio at Geneva. They have gone on apace in Sri Lanka over nothing more important than elections to those horrible white elephants called Provincial Councils. Why anybody should seek to `tout’ somebody else’s vote if the voting is to be based on performance and merit one does not know.  No person seeking a vote will ever speak of himself or represent to the people, the truth about himself including his merits and demerits.

The election to the Western and Southern Provincial Councils will be a total farce.  Those Provincial Councils are merely avenues through which the Government can waste public money and time [that could be far better spent on something useful to the people] for the purpose of glorifying itself.

The one issue that should arise at this election is whether Provincial Councils should continue to exist or not, but that is one issue that would never arise at such elections because those who contest seek not the betterment of the country or the lives of the people whom they purportedly seek to represent, but their own personal betterment and benefit.

One other question one would naturally expect to be in issue at each of these elections if they are bona fide elections is, whether the incumbent administration of either province has served the people of those provinces rather than themselves. Given the farcical nature of the Provincial Council system and these elections, it is not a matter for surprise that the matter is not in question at these so called “elections”.

The future does not seem at all bright - for if “touting” which is expressly forbidden to lawyers is indulged in by supposedly `honourable’ and `erudite’ lawyers themselves when the elections come around, what can one expect of others or other elections?? The manner in which the Code of Ethics of Lawyers is honoured in the breach is clearly reminiscent of our Election Laws and the manner in which they are `obeyed’ particularly by the party that presently constitutes the Government!

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