Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya has reportedly been pressing the government to hold elections to provincial councils that already stand dissolved due to the expiration of their terms. He had reportedly warned the authorities concerned that he would take stern action if the elections were not held within a particular time frame.
However, the authorities can argue that it was not they but the law that prevented the polls from being held right away. The government in a controversial move had amended the Provincial Councils Elections Act towards the end of last year in order to introduce the mixed electoral system for provincial council elections as well. Thereafter, the Delimitation Committee headed by Dr. K. Thavalingam, that demarcated the wards of provincial councils, had handed over its report to Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha on February 19. Hence, the Elections Commission has to wait until residual matters in the delimitation process are completed to hold the elections.
Even if the authorities finalise the delimitation process, political parties and the Elections Commission have to think twice on holding the elections under the mixed electoral system, as it was this system that created a mess in local government bodies. The system was first experimented with at the February 10 polls and the outcome was hellish. It doubled the number of members to councils as they had to be elected under the First-Past-the-Post (FPP) system and appointed under the Proportional Representation (PR) system.
The increased number of councillors is not the only concern over the new system. Pathetically, many councils, could not be instituted by electing their chairmen and deputy chairmen for months. Many councils saw pandemonium and fisticuffs during their institution. The main cause for this was the inability of the party with the highest number of seats to command the confidence of the majority because the collective strength of the opposition parties was more. This chaotic situation is the direct outcome of abolishing the bonus seats and the cut-off point system embodied in the PR system.
The situation would be worse at the provincial level as the same Provincial Councils Elections Amendment Act stipulates a mandatory female representation as well. It must be recalled that the mandatory female representation, despite all its good intentions, had created another mess in many LG bodies following the polls.Since the party that got the majority at most of the councils, got the candidates who contested for the wards elected, they did not have to bear the “burden” of appointing
Hence, the losing parties had to appoint women as council members until the requirement for 25 per cent of female representation was fulfilled. Some parties did not return any of its members through the election under the FPP system and were required to appoint women for all seats they were entitled to under the PR system. Against this backdrop, a handful of female members have to face a plethora of males from other parties during debates.
The steep increase in the number of provincial council members will be higher than that in LG bodies as the ratio between two electoral systems is different in PC and LG elections. Also, the mess that could be created through women representation in provincial councils would be worse as the female quota in provincial councils is 30 per cent against the 25 per cent in LG bodies.
The Elections Commission chief was correct when he pressed the government to hold PC polls without any delay. But it will not be prudent to rush by ignoring the possible repercussions of the mixed electoral system which is already proven to be flawed. It will not be difficult to bring in necessary amendments to the existing law or to revert to the old system as both President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa have expressed displeasure over the new mixed system in the wake of the February 10 elections.