Bullets, pen caps and flawed logic

August 22, 2013, 12:00 pm UNP parliamentarian Ajith Mannapperuma got into hot water when he, in a bid to drive his point home during Wednesday’s adjournment debate on the Weliweriya killings, produced an object, claiming that it was a bullet used in crushing the Aug. 01 protest. He insisted that it had been found embedded in a wayside wall. However, when the government MPs raised hell calling for disciplinary action against him for bringing a bullet into the House, Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody said MP Mannapperuma had claimed what he had just shown was not a bullet but a gold coloured pen cap. Mannapperuma must have been caught on camera as Parliament has a CCTV system and it is not difficult to identify what was actually in his hand. Whether it was bullet or a pen cap, his argument that those who asked for aqua pura were shot still holds water. But, he will have to explain why he claimed that the object he showed the House had been found stuck in a wall. Is it a case of the pen being as strong as a bullet? There are lessons that the Opposition should learn from MP Mannapperuma’s experience. Propaganda, unless handled properly, could become counterproductive. He with his unnecessary theatrics let a jittery government which had been on the defensive go on the offensive. He should have known better than to use a bullet or a pen cap as a peg to hang his argument on. In so doing, he allowed his opponents to make a Straw Man of his claim and demolish it without countering his argument. This is a common logical fallacy. Worse, what has got highlighted in the media is not the main thrust of his argument—people who asked for water got bullets—but the fact that he produced something in the House calling it a bullet used in quelling the Weliweriya protest and then retracted his claim. Another common logical fallacy we see in parliamentary debates is argumentum ad hominem or ‘argument against the man’, which the government effectively employs in tackling key Opposition figures. It looks as if besides Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice, parliamentarians had to read a few books on logic––at least Robert Gula’s work, Nonsense: How we abuse logic in our everyday language.

It is hoped that some smart government politician or propagandist will not concoct an absurd theory that deaths and injuries at Weliweriya were caused by flying pen caps and, therefore, the blame should be pinned on journalists who covered the event! Anything is possible in this country where there’s a sucker born every minute. A welcome warning Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya is reported to have warned that the names of successful candidates at the Provincial Council polls to be held next month will not be gazetted unless they declare their assets and liabilities. About 99 per cent of the candidates in the fray have not complied with that legal requirement, he says. It is heartening that he has decided to put his foot down. Such stern action is called for if arrogant politicians are to be made to fall in line. However, let us not be so naïve as to expect the candidates to declare all their assets in compliance with the Polls Chief’s directive. They are past masters of stashing away ill-gotten wealth and covering their tracks. It will be suicidal for them to reveal their illegally acquired assets, in most cases, in others’ names. While the Elections Commissioner is to be commended for his bold action, let him be urged to go the whole hog to tame the rogues in the contest. Most UPFA candidates stand accused of abusing state resources in their election campaigns. This is a serious offence and the culprits should not be allowed to go unpunished. Election monitors have furnished irrefutable evidence of the blatant misuse by ruling party contestants of public property. The Polls Chief has already taken into custody about a dozen state-owned vehicles misused by some candidates. He does not have powers to take punitive action against them, election monitors say. However, something drastic needs to be done; the only way to put an end to this practice is for someone to institute legal action against the offenders with a view to having them disqualified in the event of their election. If the ordinary people are fined heavily for minor offences such as driving their own vehicles without wearing seat belts, the kith and kin of the ruling party politicians must be made to pay for misusing state-owned vehicles etc.

Posted by Thavam

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