Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya -- apparently determined to ensure that the February 10 local council election will be free, fair and non-violent -- met party secretaries and representatives of independent groups to brief them on election laws and processes.
Mr. Deshapriya, speaking out on the media and at various other events has vowed to implement tough election laws with the support of the police, who will need to take orders from him during the election campaign period.
Whatever the parties do or do not do, it is widely believed that the decisive role will be played by about 700,000 young voters, a new generation that has emerged after the August 2015 general election. A total of 8,356 members will be elected to 341 municipal and urban councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas in what will be the biggest ever election in Sri Lanka.
Significantly it will also be a test of the new mixed electoral system which has been tried and tested in many democratic countries. We hope it will work here also and that party politicians will allow it to work. In terms of this 60 per cent of the members will be elected on a ward basis and 40 per cent on a proportional representation basis. A novel feature is that 25 per cent of the members nominated and elected will be women. This is seen as the first step towards an important move to give women a bigger say in political policy making and decision making, because it is believed that without the feminine input, insight and instinct, male decision-making is often flawed.
Whatever it is, we hope that whoever is elected will act as servants of the people and service to the community will be their primary aim. In earlier decades most local councils had become dens of robbers where the people’s money was plundered without developing the villages and that is why hundreds of villages are today in a desperately bad condition.
Most parties have pledged they have checked the records and the declaration of assets and liabilities of candidates. They assure that candidates will not do business as often seen at local council levels and even in the national parliament. But some election monitoring groups allege that at least one of the five main political parties has nominated candidates with criminal or dubious records.
In the fray are five main parties -- the United National Party led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party led by President Maithripala Sirisena, the United People’s Freedom Alliance which is also under the President, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna which is better known as the joint opposition or the Mahinda Rajapaksa group and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.
For the past few decades, records show that the ruling party or parties have a big advantage at the polls because the majority of the 15.1 million registered voters are not members of any political party and are aware that they could get more done for their villages if the national ruling party or alliance is elected to office. This factor will obviously give a big advantage to the UNP, the SLFP and the UPFA though the Rajapaksa group has expressed confidence of fairing well because the people are disgusted or disappointed with what the National Unity Government has done or failed to do.
SLPP chief organiser Basil Rajapaksa claims the party could win about 200 councils but many analysts doubt that claim.
The National Unity Government has pledged that the aim of its vision 2025 sustainable, eco-friendly and all-inclusive development programme is to take development to the village and provide creative and innovative jobs there specially for young boys and girls in rural areas. This is part of its vision to create a peaceful, just and all-inclusive society.
While it remains to be seen whether the politicians will keep their pledges, the registered voters numbering 15.1 million and especially the 700,000 young voters should act as responsible citizens and vote for the candidates not just on party lines but by making investigations and finding out the character and quality of the candidate.