.It seems that President Maithripala Sirisena is heading for another collision course with the United National Party (UNP) as he has presented a Cabinet memorandum seeking approval to conduct the provincial council elections before May 31, this year.
The elections are already overdue for six provincial councils. By April, the Western and Southern provincial councils will stand dissolved as their terms end. The term of only the Uva Provincial Council will conclude in September. The President proposed to conduct polls on the same day for nine provincial councils before May 31, by enacting fresh legislation to revert to the old system of proportional representation.
- The elections can be postponed with the citation of legal problems
- The President has his own interests in getting pc elections declared first
- In the event of an election, the President will be afforded the opportunity to travel around the country
There is a Gordian knot in the conduct of elections. A new law is in force providing for the conduct of polls under a new system which is a mix of the First Past the Post System and Proportional Representation. For that purpose, delimitation work has to be done carving out new electorates. The committee of delimitation has submitted a report. Yet, it has not been agreed upon, resulting in the indefinite delay of the provincial councils elections.
Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Desapriya called it a Gordian knot that can be cut by reverting to the old system of proportional representation.
The President’s Cabinet memorandum seeks to enact such legislation by repealing the present Act that applies to the elections to the provincial council elections. The President’s move can see the light of day only if the Cabinet of the UNP-led government proceeds with through the Local Government and Provincial Council Ministry. It can be enacted only with two-thirds approval in Parliament. As such, the UNP’s cooperation becomes even more important for the passage of the proposed legislation through Parliament.
Now, the President is for conducting Provincial Council Elections before the presidential elections scheduled later this year. Also, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), operating under the de facto leadership of Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, asks for it. Nevertheless, the UNP has to act as the governing party to enact legislation to conduct the provincial council elections. In a subtle move, the President has thrown the ball at the UNP’s court. It looks like an attempt to fix the UNP on the issue of provincial council elections being withheld inordinately over a legal snag.
UNP wants Presidential Elections
Obviously, this will place the UNP in a dilemma. One thing is that the UNP insists on the Presidential Elections to be conducted first. It does not desire for any other election ahead of it. The UNP’s intention became apparent last Friday in Parliament when it dodged a debate on a motion calling for the provincial council elections. The UNP did it by raising the quorum issue in the House. The debate ended abruptly as there was no quorum of 20 MPs present in the Chamber of the House. UNP MP Lakshman Wijemanna brought it to the notice of the House there was no quorum to proceed with. The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which moved the motion, also incurs blame for the failure to maintain quorum on that day. If there were adequate UPFA MPs present, it could have prevailed upon the UNP to declare its stance on the elections during the course of the debate. However, the UNP made use of the quorum issue to cut short the debate, and thus avoided the reply speech which was supposed to be made by the subject minister announcing the party’s standpoint. It indicated the UNP’s lackluster approach to take steps for the provincial council elections first.
Now, the ball is in the UNP’s court. The elections can be postponed with the citation of legal problems. However, there is no moral justification for the postponement of elections. The conduct of provincial council elections does not gel with the UNP’s political interests at the moment.
The President has his own interests in getting provincial council elections declared first as far as one can see. Now, he is in alliance with Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa. In the event of any election, the President’s UPFA and Mr. Rajapaksa’s SLPP will be compelled to strike an electoral deal. It will enable the President to regain his waned political standing in the electorate. On the other hand, the President is ambitious to be the next presidential candidate. For that objective to be realized, an electoral understanding with Mr. Rajapaksa is sine qua non. In the event of an election, the President will be afforded the opportunity to travel around the country campaigning for the SLPP/UPFA alliance. It will serve as a great precursor for him to propel his image as a presidential candidate as the next move.
The UNP believes it is relatively weak in the Sinhala- majority provinces outside the north and the east. So, a provincial council election is less advantageous for it. Yet, at a presidential election, the UNP believes it can make up for any disadvantage in the Sinhala majority areas by getting the Tamil and Muslim votes en bloc from the north and the east. Therefore, the UNP is asking for the presidential election first.
All in all, the two sides have irreconcilable interests as far as the provincial council elections are concerned. In this manner, the President is poised to have another policy clash with the UNP unless there is compromise by one party of the other. It will be a difficult task for the UNP to dodge steps to conduct the provincial council elections. Any attempt at keeping such elections postponed will be interpreted as a way of escaping the public opinion in fear of defeat. May be, it does not want to go for the presidential elections due before December 9, this year with a defeatist posture.
Ranil, MP bonhomie
All eyes were on the wedding function of Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son Rohitha Rajapaksa in Weeraketiya, last week.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was virtually the chief guest at the wedding function. He appeared at the event and exchanged pleasantries with those of the Rajapaksa family. Invitations had been sent to a few of the UNP. The list of invitees from the UNP included Mr.Wickremesinghe, Ministers Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Gayantha Karunatilake, Sagala Ratnayake, Kabir Hashim, Mangala Samaraweera etc.
Most of them came by helicopter from Bandarawela where there was an event for them. Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama received the invitation on the wedding day morning, and therefore he could not make it. There was joy all around, and Mr. Wickremesinghe reportedly remarked to Mr. Rajapaksa, “Here, you are having the majority, not me,” The appearance of Mr. Wickremesinghe with Mr. Rajapaksa has given credence to perception that there is bonhomie between the two regardless of their political differences.
Sniffer dog for each Minister
At Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Transport Minister Arjuna Ranatunga presented an interesting Cabinet paper-that is to seek approval to import 20 drug detection dogs to be deployed at the airport to sniff out narcotics.
In fact, the Cabinet paper had been worked out when MP Nimal Siripala de Silva was the Minister. Having looked at the paper, the President intended to crack a joke. So he said in lighter vein, “Why do you import only 20” It is better to import each dog for all the Ministers,”
Everyone laughed at this remark. Minister Ranatunga who presented the paper said he did not want any dog. But, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera contributed to the joke by staking a claim for a dog.