he delay in holding Provincial Council (PC) elections is very much in the news these days, especially since Elections Commissioner Deshapriya threatened to quit his post if elections were not held before November 2019.
It’s January now, why then does the EC want to wait until November to register his protest? A good question, but the Commissioner has not made us, privy as to why he chose that particular month... We hope it is not a case of soothsayers recommending to him an auspicious date or month. The notion of Provincial Councils, given life through the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution is not a home-grown concept.
It was in fact imposed on the country via the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987 -an accord signed by the Sri Lanka government under duress and accepted by the Tamil militants under threat and intimidation. It was, in fact, the imposition of an Indian solution to this country’s burgeoning ethnic conflict which had grown into a full-fledged armed struggle.
To the Indian mindset, Sri Lanka’s ethnic war as a simple demand for greater autonomy. The imposition of a united northeast province within a united Sri Lanka under the Provincial Council concept grew out of this misconception. Under the terms of the accord, Sri Lanka was forced to permit the Indian army to occupy the northern and eastern provinces in the guise of an Indian Peace Keeping Force, devolve powers to a newly united northeast province or face an
Imposed on the government, rejected by the opposition and forced on the Tamil militants, there was little chance of the provincial council system fulfilling the aspirations it was set up to achieve. There was also strong opposition to the accord countrywide and the day before the accord was signed large crowds gathered in Colombo to oppose it. Police used baton charges, tear gas and ultimately opened fire to disperse the crowds. At least 21 died in the protests.
But the signing did go ahead. It was left to a single naval rating to publicly express the resentment felt by the people at the humiliation the country was put through. With the signing of the ‘Accord’ completed Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi was attacked by a member of the Guard of Honour accorded to him by the government when he was about to emplane at the Katunayake airport.
Today, not unexpectedly, the provincial system has not achieved its goal of providing the people of the northeast autonomy. In fact, the northeast provincial council itself was de-merged. The councils never received police or land powers which today remain part of the powers controlled by the central government.
But the councils are Constitutionally authorised bodies, governed by rules and regulations regarding their life-span and renewal once their periods expire. By October last year six of the nine councils stood dissolved, by end April 2019, two more will be dissolved and on October 9, 2018, the Uva PC too will be dissolved.
In September 2017, the government proposed holding of elections to all nine provincial councils on a single day via the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, but the Supreme Court ruled this would delay elections to some councils which would be illegal.
By November last year, six PC’s stood dissolved, yet, no elections have been held... and this is illegal. The Elections Commission whose duty it is to call for elections continues to dilly-dally, giving various excuses for not calling the PC elections. The governing party, which rode into power on a ticket of good governance has done all in its power to delay the holding of the PC elections.
The president called for PC elections to be held by May 2019 but threw in a rider regarding female 25% female representation, which allows for further delay.
The Opposition which would probably win in a majority of the councils if elections were to be held, called for a discussion of PC elections, but failed to raise a quorum in the House when the matter was taken up for debate.
This despite the opposition having 95 MPs and a quorum needing a mere 25 MPs present in
Foreign-funded civil society groups who normally champion democratic, civil and fundamental rights have been strangely silent regarding the now near six-month delay in holding PC elections.
It is beginning to look, as if once again, we need particular civic-minded individuals to raise the issue in the Supreme Court, to force the Elections Commission to perform its duty and not keep violating people’s rights and discarding constitutional requirements.