The Peace Polls survey is as ‘dodgy’ as the CPA
Posted on June 13th, 2010

Ajit Randeniya

Attempts by (N)GOs and numerous peace merchants to sell solutions to Sri Lanka’s “ƒ”¹…”problem’ appear to be continuing unabated: the latest is a sort of an “ƒ”¹…”opinion poll’ conducted by a private concern named “ƒ”¹…”Peace Polls’, masquerading as another “ƒ”¹…”study’. 

 There appears to be a concerted move by the proponents of the devolution idea to suggest that the findings of this particular poll prove that there is widespread support among all sections of the Sri Lankan people for the implementation of the package of proposals of the All Parties’ Representatives Committee (APRC).

 But as usual, a careful look at the so-called “ƒ”¹…”study’ including its methodology and the hands behind it exposes it as just another fraud being attempted under false pretences by Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu and his so-called Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), this time using an international “ƒ”¹…”expert’ of dubious credentials.

 We are being informed that the subject “ƒ”¹…”study’ entitled “ƒ”¹…”War and Peace and the APRC Proposals’, is an analysis of public support for the APRC Proposals among the Sinhala, Tamil, Up-country Tamil and Muslim populations. The study has been conducted between the end of the war and a year after the end of the war, in March 2010, under the direction of a Dr Colin Irwin of the University of Liverpool.

 The so-called study is essentially an “ƒ”¹…”opinion poll’ of the type conducted in western countries by established groups such as Morgan Gallup, News Ltd and AC Nielsen. In this particular case, the questions have been framed around the key APRC  proposals such as the idea of “ƒ”¹…”power sharing’ under a unitary system based on the 13th amendment and other issues such as language and the powers of the president.

 The key finding reported is that support among the Sinhala for the preliminary APRC proposals has increased after the war, making them equally acceptable to the Sinhala, Tamils, Up-Country Tamils and Muslim communities. It is concluded that “ƒ”¹…”there is a remarkable convergence and consensus between all communities in accepting the proposals as a whole as well as in its component parts’.

 Those who are seeking to promote the results of this survey as the “ƒ”¹…”best thing since sliced bread’ however, do not appear to have carried out their own background research on this “ƒ”¹…”study’ or its methodology and the people behind it.

 First of all, it needs to be noted that “ƒ”¹…”Peace Polls’, the website behind this project, is not a formally associated with the University of Liverpool Faculty but a business enterprise of Dr Colin Irwin, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Irish Studies of the University, a common practice among university employed academics in the West these days; therefore any reference to the poll as “ƒ”¹…”a University of Liverpool study’ cannot be justified.  The Peace Polls website, http://www.peacepolls.org, does not make any claims of association with the university.

 This is the reason why Dr. Colin Irwin deserves some attention. He is a person with an extremely interesting background, and so are his contacts in Sri Lanka!

 Colin Irwin has a background as a diver. He claims to have salvaged a Bronze Age craft from Poole Harbour in 1964, and lived in the first underwater house with an artificial atmosphere in 1965. He has worked as a diving instructor in the Red Sea and has voyaged from Scotland to Iceland, Greenland and Hudson’s Bay, crossing Arctic North America by dog team. In 1978 he was awarded the Royal Cruising Club Medal for Seamanship. Good credentials for conflict resolution? Wait, there is more!

 Not satisfied with what he managed to find between the ocean floor and North Pole , he has next undertaken a Masters Degree in Anthropology, on “ƒ”¹…”Inuit ethics’, from the University of Manitoba, in 1981. He has followed this up with a Doctorate on “ƒ”¹…”how the Inuit developed a culture and society without war’ from Syracuse University in 1984. The Canadian Government has then supported him to do a comparative study of the systems of segregated education in Northern Ireland and Israel and the role of integrated schools in conflict resolution, based at Queen’s University Belfast in 1989.

 Judging by this background of Irwin, it looks like that the Inuit had avoided war by “ƒ”¹…”power sharing’ with the Bjarni HerjƒÆ’†’³lfsson, the first European who was blown off course to Canada in 985, and the French and the British invaders who followed! Now Irwin seems to be working hard to impose the concept on Sri Lanka!

 Irwin has first got in to the “ƒ”¹…”opinion polling’ business during the negotiations of the Belfast Agreement, on behalf of political parties elected to the Stormont Talks, and then moving on to conduct “ƒ”¹…”peace polls’ in Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo, between 2000 and 2005.

 He has put the marketing hook to Sri Lanka through who else but Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu; Irwin says that during a visit to “ƒ”¹…”some acquaintances’ in Sri Lanka, he took part in “ƒ”¹…”a discourse’ on Public Opinion Polls in Peace Negotiations organised by the CPA at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, and it appears the marriage was consumed immediately, and the baby has just been delivered!

 The first of three polls has been conducted between March and May 2008 on a random sample of 1,700 people from all parts of Sri Lanka, except the Northern Province. The timing of the poll has coincided with the preliminary set of APRC proposals. The second and third polls have been conducted in March 2009 and March 2010 respectively.

 The “ƒ”¹…”Colin Irwin method’ used in these surveys have involved asking randomly selected interviewees to categorise APRC proposals relating to such complex issues as the future governance structures of the state, parliament and the devolution process; the respective powers of the President and local authorities; language, religious and fundamental rights; the judiciary, public service and policing; amending the constitution etc, as ‘essential’, ‘desirable’, ‘acceptable’, ‘tolerable’ or ‘unacceptable’.

 It is not necessary to dwell too much on the consequences of using this particular “ƒ”¹…”methodology’ for a poll of this nature in a country like Sri Lanka. But this writer would’ve done most things to be present at a “ƒ”¹…”Kopi Kade’ at Kekirawa, or Madulsima, or in other provincial Sri Lanka, just to  witness the expression on the face of the farmer or the plantation worker, as the case may be, when a young CPA interviewer posed the question as to whether he considered the 13th amendment to the constitution “ƒ”¹…”essential, desirable or tolerable’!

 In short, Paikiasothy should have informed his “ƒ”¹…”expert’ that, though the Sri Lankan voter is not “ƒ”¹…”dumb’ in terms of knowing whom to vote for, a random sample of them, not being political scientists, would not have mastered the constitutional or practical intricacies of the 13th Amendment enough to be able to provide a considered opinion on the question!

 The consequences of the ill-considered methodology are reflected in the nonsensical results. As an example, 93% of the Sinhala people ‘trust the president very much or trust him quite a bit’ but only 23% find the suggestion that he should step down from office ‘unacceptable’! Twenty eight per cent of Tamils consider the suggestion that ‘Buddhism shall have ‘pride of place’ with religious freedom for all citizens being guaranteed’  ‘unacceptable’, but 44% also think it was ‘essential’! Such anomalies are not explained.

 What these results show is that they are unreliable due to the survey being riddled with all types of common errors of opinion polling: the transfer of a questionnaire technique from Ireland to Sri Lanka was never going to work due to the obvious differences in levels of education, political engagement and unique cultural factors.

 To begin with, contrary to Colin Irwin’s publicity material, tracking polls do not offer the key benefit of correcting itself for bias; estimating the trend is more difficult and error-prone than estimating the level due to the need to contend with the error in two sets of data, resulting in the change in measurement falling outside the margin of error. The errors in the two surveys would have seriously skewed the results, making them useless.

 This is exactly what seems to have happened: buried among the euphoric promotional material about the survey is the key piece of information that “ƒ”¹…”the differences between the 2009 and 2010 survey results, within and between the various community groups are “ƒ”¹…”insignificant’. One is entitled to assume that this means the results are “ƒ”¹…”not statistically significant’, meaning that any observed differences are lesser than the “ƒ”¹…”error’ involved in measuring them.

 Then there are specific “ƒ”¹…”nonresponse’ and “ƒ”¹…”response’ biases, exacerbated by the wording of the questions and the sequence in which they are asked: due to specific cultural factors, only “ƒ”¹…”some’ rural people in a country like Sri Lanka would agree to take part in a survey of this nature, giving rise to ‘selection bias’; the characteristics of those who agree to be interviewed are usually markedly different from those who decline. With Paikiasothy being behind this fraud, he would have deliberately exploited this phenomenon to “ƒ”¹…”cook’ the results the way he wanted!

 There are clear indications that Paikiasothy was up to no good. Here is an example of a question:

 From the different possibilities listed below what do you think will happen if there is no reform of the constitution to deal with the problems of the past, (indicating what you consider to be “ƒ”¹…”Very probable’, “ƒ”¹…”Probable’, “ƒ”¹…”Possible’, “ƒ”¹…”Improbable’ or “ƒ”¹…”Very improbable’).

 

  • The international community will not invest in Sri Lanka
  • The Sri Lankan economy will not develop
  • India will continue to be involved in the affairs of Sri Lanka
  • The LTTE or new militant groups will start terrorist actions again
  • The present opportunity to make peace will be lost for a generation

 Talk about putting words in to peoples’ mouths!

 Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu will stop at nothing. His latest strategy appears to be based on generating information through fraudulent means to support his agenda. In this instance, he is advocating that: “Given the consistency of these results it seems unlikely that a few minor changes or revisions will significantly alter this outcome and that the people of Sri Lanka will support the APRC or similar set of proposals. Winning the peace’, is clearly in their leaders grasp”.

 There are several issues relating to his ‘recommendation’: Paikiasothy and his henchmen such as Rohan Edirisinghe criticise President Rajapakse and the government at every turn for being ‘populist’; how can the government be expected then to initiate “ƒ”¹…”power sharing’ because it is popular?

 However, the Peace Polls survey has given rise to some results Paikiasothy and others of his ilk might find sobering, unflattering and even disturbing: in response to the question “Which persons of reputation do you trust?” on a scale from “ƒ”¹…”very much’, “ƒ”¹…”quite a bit’, “ƒ”¹…”nether trust or distrust’, “ƒ”¹…”do not trust’ to “ƒ”¹…”do not trust at all’, or “ƒ”¹…”do not know’, the response of  people in each of the communities (as a percentage) is as follows:

 Sinahala
Kumar Rupesinghe 0, 5, 15, 9, 12, 59
Jehan Perera 0, 3, 14, 7, 8, 68
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu 0, 3, 13, 6, 12, 66

 Tamils
Kumar Rupesinghe 3, 18, 17, 6, 12, 43
Jehan Perera 1, 10, 22, 6, 12, 49
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu 13, 23, 16, 5, 6, 38

Up-Country Tamils
Kumar Rupesinghe 2, 14, 18, 4 6, 55
Jehan Perera 1, 2, 22, 5, 6, 63
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu 4, 26, 19, 2, 5, 45

 Muslims
Kumar Rupesinghe 1, 4, 16, 9, 3, 67
Jehan Perera 0, 4, 16, 8, 3, 70
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu 0, 5, 17, 8, 2, 67

 The first column says it all: no one in Sri Lanka trusts Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, or Kumar Rupesinghe, or Jehan Perera.
Sri Lanka is safe!

One Response to “The Peace Polls survey is as ‘dodgy’ as the CPA”

  1. gdesilva Says:

    However, there is a potential danger sign – see the last column, ‘do not know’ , which indicates that a very significant percentage of the surveyed population’s perceptions can be swung by clever marketing strategies. And guess what, INGOs and the Western Axis of Evil (UK and US) have easy access to these resources compared to the Sri Lanka Govt.

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