Widespread speculation, contradictions and confusion along with questions as to who is trying to do what have arisen, after the Court of Appeal issued an interim stay order, on a gazette notification relating to delimitation.
The CA interim order was granted on the gazette notification issued on February 17 this year. The notification related to the Delimitation Committee Report on the boundaries of local authorities, the number of members and the constituent parts of wards. The notification was issued by the Provincial Council and Local Government Minister Faizser Musthapha, a member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), a partner in the National Unity Government with the United National Party (UNP).
Among the political questions is why the petitioners -- whoever they represent -- waited nine months to file this petition. Joint opposition leaders including former president Mahinda Rajapaksa have alleged that President Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP faction was responsible for the petition filed by electors from Colombo city, Kandy, Panduwasnuwara, Hali-Ela and Embilipitiya. The JO alleges the pro-Sirisena SLFP fears it might be defeated into the third place if Local Council elections are held in January next year, with JO front-liner Basil Rajapaksa claiming that the new Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) would win as many as 200 of the 340 councils. But the pro-Sirisena SLFP has denied these allegations and claimed it was confident of victory though some of the party Kapuwas are still trying to bring about reconciliation between the Sirisena and Rajapaksa factions. However Mr. Rajapaksa is taking a strong stand and most political analysts believe a reconciliation is not possible. President Sirisena has said he would not compromise on his principles for any reconciliation with the Rajapaksa faction but some SLFP ministers are keen on reconciliation mainly because they do not agree with the UNP’s socialist market economic policies. These include the handing over of the Hambantota Port area to a Chinese company, the Trincomalee oil farms to India, Japan or both and the proposed free trade agreements with India, China and Singapore.
Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya was not named as a respondent in this petition.Though there were contradictory reports, the stay order is not connected to the November 2 gazette notification issued by the Minister enabling the Elections Commission to hold local council polls sometime between January 25 and 31 next year. Therefore there are contradictory reports and confusion as to whether the local council election will be held in January. The UNP, the SLFP, SLPP, the Jantha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and some election monitoring groups want to come in as intervenient petitioners asking that the stay order be suspended by the three-judge bench of the Court of Appeal. If that does not happen, the courts go on vacation on December 4 and there are doubts whether the local council elections could be held in January.
In Parliament this week some MPs appealed to the Speaker to intervene and ensure that local council elections are held in January. The Speaker is seeking legal advice on this but there is another big question over whether he could do this because of the checks and balances among the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
Through all the confusion and contradictions one factor is clear. The people are sovereign and this is expressed mainly at elections. Parliament is supreme because it is the highest body of the elected representatives of the people. Local council elections have been postponed for a long time and so have elections to three provincial councils. This is not good for democracy and we hope that all steps will be taken to consolidate democracy and the people’s fundamental rights to elect their local and national representatives.