Political parties have created a muddle in the local government bodies by adopting a flawed law providing for female representation in them. In spite of their intention being lofty, the provision in the recently adopted Local Authorities Election Amendment Act for the 25 percent of female representation have led to a messy situation in local government bodies after the February 10 election.
The main reason for the delay in the institution of those bodies even after nearly a month is the controversy over appointment of women for the slots some parties and independent groups have secured in the last month’s election. Some parties have expressed reluctance to abide by the legal requirement of appointing certain number of women for the slots they had won. This interestingly had even been justified by the Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya.
Mr. Deshapriya, while explaining the chaotic situation in appointing women members for some local government bodies by certain political parties, said in his typical witty style recently, that secretaries of political parties were looking for the man who prepared this electoral system.
In fact, the confusion has arisen as a result of the law making the 25 percent of female representation in local councils mandatory at a time when the voters are not prepared for it, despite the idea being progressive. Political parties faced difficulties even before the election as the newly adopted relevant law required them to include women equal to 30 percent of their ward based nomination list and 50 percent of the second list. Many parties openly said they had been compelled to include in their nomination papers “dummy” women candidates, due to their difficulty in finding suitable candidates who are prepared to come to the fray.
In many councils, winning parties had secured seats they deserve, proportionally to the votes they had obtained at the ward based election, not requiring them to appoint any more members from their second list. They, in that ward based election, have given their share of women members to the council, as there were women equal to 30 percent of their ward based nomination paper. Therefore the onus to fulfill the requirement of 25 percent women members in the councils, goes to the other parties that are allowed to use their second list.
The parties that have not won more than three slots would also be exempted from appointing women members from their second lists. Then the middle ranking parties have to carry the entire “burden” of appointing women members until the 25 percent requirement is fulfilled. Election Commission members have pointed out by that a political party that contested for the Dikwella Pradeshiya Sabha had been given 7 slots from its second list and had been compelled to appoint seven women for all those seats. So, that party would have to face the male-dominated winning party with its less number of all-women group during the future proceedings of the council.
Interestingly, no women’s organizations or feminist groups have questioned “so what” when the Chairman of the Elections Commission and some civil organisations said that this is an unfair situation. They also seem to think or know that the women candidates fielded by many parties just to fulfill the legal requirement, were dummies, with no political experience or competence to face the challenges to come.
No doubt, the women representation in people’s representative bodies such as the LG councils, provincial councils and the Parliament is a progressive concept. But the method that has been put in practice is not workable due to the conflict between the loftiness of the idea and the psyche of the constituency. It is high time to find a workable solution for the issue after a comprehensive dialogue among the intellectual in the country.