hen the Provincial Councils were set up in 1987, in terms of the controversial Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, there was widespread criticism. In the South, some political leaders or analysts said they feared it might lead to a division of the country while others said the PCs would be a waste, abuse or plunder of public money by politicians. Senior minister Gamini Jayasuriya disagreed with the government and resigned on a matter of principle, one of the rare occasions of a senior politician acting with integrity. In the North, the LTTE and other extremists dismissed the PCs as a whitewash of the ethnic conflict.
After 30 years, the PCs are still functioning though there are varying opinions as to what they are doing or not doing and what they could do. Last week the Cabinet decided to introduce the 20th Constitutional Amendment for all Provincial Council elections to be held on a single day. According to the position now, three provincial councils will end their terms this year, three others next year and three others in 2019. Opposition critics are accusing the government of delaying the elections because it fears defeat in view of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) being split down the middle.
In terms of this 20th Amendment, Parliament will have the powers of any PC after it is dissolved and till elections are held. Parliament will determine the date of dissolution of all PCs. The Amendment states, “the election of members to all Provincial Councils shall be held on the same date and Parliament shall determine the date on which all the Provincial Councils shall stand dissolved; provided specified date shall not be later than the expiration of the term of the last constituted Provincial Council”.
For the Eastern, North-Central and Sabaragamua PCs, their terms will end in September this year. For the Northern, Central and North-Western Provincial Councils the terms will end next year. And for the Uva, Southern and Western Provincial Councils their terms will end in 2019.
One of the main election monitoring groups, the Campaign For Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) has charged that the Government is trying to postpone some PC polls indefinitely in the same manner it had postponed local council elections. CaFFE says that under the existing law, it is mandatory to hold elections when a PC’s five-year term ends.
According to our sister paper the Sunday Times, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in a note to the Cabinet, has given what most analysts believe are some valid reasons why PC elections should be held on a single day. During the former Rajapaksa regime PCs were dissolved at any time and elections were held on a staggered basis. Election monitoring groups and analysts said this gave undue advantages to the ruling alliance. There was widespread abuse of public funds and resources including, the state media and other institutions.
Premier Wickremesinghe in his note to the Cabinet said the staggered election during the former regime had created an undesirable socio-political environment in the country. He said this has led to an inefficient allocation of Government’s financial, human and other resources for unending election related activities, almost every year.
According to the premier’s memorandum the staggered PC elections had caused undue disruptions to State Service Delivery System and day-to-day activities of the people. This process had also led to the increased possibility of election-related violence, malpractices and abuse of state resources due to concentration of national political figures, media and political party machinery in a limited geographical area.
Mr. Wickremesinghe also said the staggered polls had created the ability for the incumbent government to exert undue influence on the outcome of the election by concentrating State resources and State media to a restricted area. It had also led to the distortion of public perception regarding the popularity or unpopularity of a political party based on the outcome of the election held in a particular province.
Indeed the validity of the Prime Minister’s claim was proved when on January 8, 2015 former President Mahinda Rajapaksa -- who had won every provincial poll was defeated at the presidential election which also was held two years before the scheduled date. If the Tamil National Alliance supports the National Unity Government -- as it is expected to -- there will be a two-thirds majority to pass the 20th Amendment.