A Tale of Two (Potential) Coups

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It seems irresistible for some defeated candidates to cry foul when an election doesn’t go their way, and Sri Lanka’s main opposition candidate is no exception.

As Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe, who wrote an election preview piece for The Diplomat last week focusing on the Tamil vote, notes in a piece for the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, General Sarath Fonseka says the presidential poll was rigged. Unfortunately, for Fonseka, this view is at odds with a number of election monitors.

As DeSilva-Ranasinghe notes:

‘The elections, despite some incidents, were endorsed by the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE), the Peoples Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), and the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV). Also, the preliminary post-election report compiled by a five-member Commonwealth team led by former Jamaican Foreign Minister KD Knight confirmed that, “ballots were properly counted” and “overall voting and counting have proceeded reasonably well in most areas.”‘

This hasn’t stopped thousands of Fonseka supporters flocking to the streets of Colombo in protest, while one opposition lawmaker has said Wednesday’s moves were just the first step in efforts to challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s legitimacy.

It’s a dangerous game, and one only need look at Thailand to see the risks, where even routine maintenance checks of military vehicles prompt speculation of an impending coup.

‘On the night of Jan. 25, 22 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) were spotted driving through the streets of Bangkok, resembling the scene that had played out on the night of Sept. 19, 2006.

‘This time, though, the APCs were on the streets for a more mundane mission: maintenance and repair work. Yet the apologies offered by the military brass for causing panic in politically jittery Thailand did little to slow down the rumour mill.’

Of course where election theft is brazen and/or verifiable – Iran being a good case in point – losing candidates have reasonable grounds to consider taking their case directly to the people. But the problem with trying to delegitimize a leader is that it frequently ends up undermining the office itself, meaning that even on assuming power new leaders find themselves fair game for the next wave of anger whipped up by an unhappy losing candidate.

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