ith more than 330 municipal councils, urban councils and pradeshiya sabhas likely to go to the polls on January 20 next year, the three major contenders will obviously focus their attention on the elections, but we hope the National Government will also give priority to its vision 2025 programme and the mission of building a peaceful, just and all-inclusive society.
President Maithripala Sirisena as leader of the main faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), last week decided to fire even senior party members who are affiliated to the pro-Rajapaksa joint opposition (JO). Several dissidents were fired and new chief organizers appointed to those electorates. Mr. Sirisena’s tough action ruled out the possibility of a reconciliation between the mainline pro-Sirisena SLFP and the faction backing the JO led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. Our sister paper, the Sunday Times reported that President Sirisena was likely to expedite legal action against Rajapaksa family members and their associates who are alleged to be involved in the plunder of billions of rupees in public funds.
The United National Party (UNP) is also going all out to win most of the local council elections which will be held on a mixed system – 60% to be elected on a ward basis and 40% on the proportional representation system. With 25% of the seats being reserved for women, the process is complex. Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya has been much in the headlines these days but also appears to have many headaches in explaining the process to political parties. More importantly the Elections Commission needs to make the sovereign people aware of the process with State television and radio time being made available for these programmes.
One of Mr. Sirisena’s surprise appointments last week was that of former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga as Chief Organizer of the Attanagalla Electoral Division. It is well known that it was Ms. Kumaratunga who played the key role in the secret political revolution which led to the formation of the Rainbow Coalition and the election of Mr. Sirisena as President on January 8, 2015. It was Ms. Kumaratunga who also initiated and worked out the moves in 2015 August for a memorandum of understanding between the UNP and the SLFP. This led to the formation of a National Unity Government with the two major parties coming together for the first time since independence in 1947.
This MoU is scheduled to be renewed before December 31 and if Ms. Kumaratunga again has a key role in this she will have a page in history. What her father S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike separated in 1951, his daughter has now brought together. Mr. Bandaranaike, though he played the “Sinhala Only” card for party political purposes, later worked out the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact with the Federal Party in 1958. But Sinhala extremists sabotaged it, though it gave to the districts much less power than the present Provincial Councils Act. Analysts believe that if the B-C pact had been implemented, Sri Lanka could have avoided the horrors of the devastating 30-year war. Ms. Kumaratunga is now the head of the Presidential Task Force on North-South Reconciliation and perhaps destiny will help to do what her father wanted to, but failed.
In any event, though JO front-liner Basil Rajapaksa is bragging about winning some 200 councils, most analysts believe that the UNP and the SLFP - though they are contesting the up-coming local polls separately - will continue to work together to achieve the sustainable eco-friendly economic goals outlined in Vision 2025 by building a peaceful, just and all-inclusive society. With most big economic projects being launched in rural areas, we hope the new economic policy will alleviate poverty, help bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources between the rich and the poor, and also give the poverty-trapped voiceless people a say in the decision making processes.