It is highly rumoured that the government is going to amend the Constitution so as to conduct elections to all nine Provincial Councils on a single day, without having them on a staggered basis as done thus far. In spite of the move being said to be aimed at conducting all provincial council elections on a particular day, civil society organizations including the election monitoring bodies have already expressed their fear that the Constitutional Amendment would be a move to postpone the elections to provincial councils whose terms of office lapse this year and the next year.
Nobody can contest the professed purpose of the said Constitutional Amendment because the voters who vote during subsequent elections are psychologically influenced by the results of the previous election when these elections are held on a staggered basis. The JVP argues that conducting elections simultaneously would cut costs. But what is the government’s real motive in holding elections simultaneously?
Provincial Council elections have never been held on a single day from the inception of these councils in 1988, though they were instituted by a single piece of legislation -- the 13th Amendment to the Constitution adopted as a result of the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987.
Though the elections for the seven provincial councils outside the then war-torn Northern and Eastern Provinces were held in three stages in 1988, the elections to the seven PCs were held simultaneously in 1993 when the then President D.B. Wijetunga had in a surprise move dissolved the PCs which were administered by his party, the UNP, after claiming that the Chief ministers of the PCs had advised him to do so.
Therefore, it is clear that the government is in a position to conduct the elections to all nine provincial councils simultaneously even without a Constitutional Amendment if it wishes to do so. Only thing government has to do is to fix the date for the elections to the other eight provincial councils with that of the Northern Provincial Council, because the Chief Minister of this PC would not abide by the government’s decision.
Despite there being some advantages in holding the provincial council elections simultaneously, it is not necessary or compulsory for the government to do so straightaway. It can conduct elections for each provincial council as and when their term lapses, before introducing the proposed Constitutional Amendment.
The government has already been accused of postponing the local government elections. The delay in holding local government elections had been attributed by government leaders to the delimitation process of wards in local government areas required by the change in the electoral system introduced in 2012 in respect of these bodies.
However, one would recall that the process dragged on for several years and the Delimitation Committee Chairman Asoka Peiris alleged last that both main parties wanted the process delayed and accused Local Government Minister Faizser Musthapha of having asked him to delay his committee report.
Although 18 months had lapsed since the minister had denied Mr. Peiris’s allegation, the elections to the local authorities are not in sight. This has vindicated the claim by the opposition political parties, especially the joint opposition that the government repeatedly put off the elections for fear of defeat because of its failure in resolving problems faced by the people and the corruption charges against it. A public opinion to that effect is also gradually being created as a result of repeated postponement of these elections.
It is said that in politics time serves the opposition. With the people having been convinced that high profile corruption such as the Central Bank bond scam are linked to government leaders, it would be increasingly difficult for the ruling coalition to face the elections. Hence further postponement of elections would not be in the interest of the government as well as in the interest of democracy.