With the intensification of public pressure, the government reached a point beyond which it cannot delay the elections to the local authorities. As such, the government leaders met at Temple Trees on Tuesday evening with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in the chair to work out modalities for the elections.
The leaders of the political parties, aligned with the national unity government, participated in the discussion. Alongside, the two opposition parties - Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) - made representations to it. EPDP is a party that collaborates primarily with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in the unity government particular with regard to matters in the north and the east. Its leader Jaffna district MP Douglas Devananda went for the meeting.
- JVP, EPDP made representation at Temple Trees meeting
- JVP not in favour of postponement of polls
- Day of polling likely on January 27, 2018
- Kabir, Mustapha clash in cabinet over polls
- Rishad criticised for not containing soaring CoL
- Rupee devaluation, harvest failure contribute to price hikes of commodities
JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, at the meeting, informed the government that his party would not stand for any further postponement of the election.
His position was announced at a time when the JVP faced criticism from some segments over its collaboration with the government to incorporate amendments to the Provincial Councils Elections Act that provide for, among others, the suspension of elections to the three provincial councils whose terms expired this year. The elections are withheld to them until a new electoral system is worked out.
JVP insists on LG polls
At subsequent press conferences and events, the JVP leaders were at pain to justify their position in enabling the government to muster two-thirds in Parliament for the enactment of that particular piece of legislation. The general public consumed the JVP’s position as aiding and abetting the government to prolong the absence of elections in the country since the parliamentary elections conducted in August, 2015.
The JVP‘s latest stand is for immediate elections to the local authorities. It is probably aimed at blunting such criticism levelled at the party.
According to sources close to the government, the government leaders, at the meeting, expressed their desire to go for elections on January 27, 2018.
If it has to be the day of polling, the Elections Commission has to initiate action at the beginning of next month itself.
The government leaders announced the day of polling to the press after the meeting though it is discretionary for the Elections Commission to decide in keeping with the Act governing the procedure.
Elections Commission’s Chairman Mahinda Desapriya is an official who does not stomach politicians announcing the day of polling before him. It happened during the previous rule. He detested it so much so that he protested to the then politicians in writing against it.
Reliable political sources said the United National Party (UNP), as the main political force within the government, wanted the elections to the local bodies. However, President Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP is not pleased with the move to have election. That is because it fears relegation to the third level at an election.
Kabir, Mustapha clash at Cabinet
Prior to this meeting, the Cabinet of Ministers also had the regular meeting with President Sirisena chairing it. According to sources from the Cabinet, Public Enterprise Development Minister Kabir Hashim took a swipe at Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faizer Mustapha over the delay in conducting the polls.
He said the UNP stood for polls at least under the old Proportional Representation System, but the others did not act insisting on it to be conducted under the new mixed system somehow or the other.
“That way, you took time after time to have polls. This cannot be done so,” he said in his berate to the Minister.
The Minister replied that he should not be blamed for the delay. He said he had to attend to the creation of new local bodies and rectification of issues arising from delimitation done during the previous rule under the supervision of then Minister Basil Rajapaksa.
“In fact, you all are the ones who appointed a committee to rectify these things though I have to take the brunt of criticism,” he shot back to Minister Hashim.
President fears electoral setback due to high living costs
The soaring cost of living, which is now at 8.6%, turned out be a topic that made the Cabinet session tense with criticism aimed at Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen once again. This is the second time he came under verbal criticism from his colleagues over his purported failure to contain the rising food prices.
President Sirisena himself took an indirect swipe at him this time as he said, “We will not be able to face an election due to the way in which the cost of living is rising.
Of course, there are two factors which are beyond the control of the subject minister and led to the hike in food prices in the retail market. One is the depreciation of rupee value against the US dollar. The prices of imported food items such as sugar, dhal, spices and canned fish have shot up in the domestic market. Alongside, the crop failure for two consecutive seasons resulted in a rice shortage. It warranted imports of rice from elsewhere in the world finally.
The Minister cannot be targeted for the price hike caused by these two factors. Let alone, he has to take the brunt of criticism for the absence of workable mechanism to lower the prices by increasing supplies and streamlining the distribution process by curtailing errant trading practices.
SATHOSA unable to influence market
It transpired once again that SATHOSA, the government’s retail chain, has no sufficient capacity to influence the market to fall in line with prices it offers on essential food stuffs. It was also found that the price control had become difficult due to errant trading practices.
In fact, PM Ranil Wickremesinghe noted that the government’s tax reduction and waivers on essential food items had not translated into proper benefits for consumers in terms of drops of retail prices.
Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka and Special Assignment Minister said the appointment of committees would serve no purpose in bringing down the process.
Instead, they suggested entrusting a single minister with all the responsibilities to address the issue.
In the backdrop of current developments in the country, the upcoming local government elections are slated to assume the significance of a national election, a novel phenomenon in the political history of Sri Lanka.
Normally, people fall in line with the party in power at such an election to elect their representatives to their local bodies entrusted with duties such as collection of taxes, maintenance of roads and public markets, solid waste collection etc.
As things appear at the moment, people seem to be looking to an election to cast their ballots well above those lines. This is the first election to be called in, under the national unity government. So, it is the first opportunity to be afforded to voters to decide on the performance of the new government.