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Is the Govt. really scared of elections

2017-06-23 00:00:55
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  • Elections for local authorities should be held in four years and thus they had been scheduled to be held in 2015 and 2016
     
  • It has to be mentioned that the PAFFREL had filed a fundamental rights petition also in the Supreme Court in September last year, seeking an order for authorities to hold the local government elections

 

The debate over the holding of local government elections or not holding of it has been brought forth again, this time by the tiny dengue mosquito. With the dengue fever spreading to an unprecedented proportion claiming over 200 lives and threatening at least another 63,000, only for the last five and a half months in this year. Opposition parties, especially the Joint Opposition have renewed their agitation calling for the local government elections throughout the country.  


They argue that disposal of garbage around the country has been crippled as there are no elected people’s representatives in municipal councils, urban councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas after their term lapsed, leaving the administration of those bodies purely in the hands of the bureaucracy that works mainly upon orders.   


They were agitating for the holding of these elections for these local bodies since last year accusing the government for not holding the said elections for fear of defeat in light of their failure in keeping the promises given to the people during the last Presidential and Parliamentary election. Although their claim that the government fears to face the voters seemed first as a usual political vituperation, the government’s behaviour during the past one year seems to have given credence to it.  
The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) has also joined the Joint Opposition’s bandwagon this week. Entering into a political debate, the GMOA spokesman Dr. Samantha Ananda said on Tuesday that the solid waste management issues have erupted following the local government bodies were crippled, resulting in the current dengue epidemic situation in the country. It is well known that the powerful trade union of government doctors is in a collision course with the present government over the proposed ETCA agreement with India and especially over the government’s refusal to close down the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) or the Malabe private medical college.

 
There are 335 local government authorities in Sri Lanka which include 23 Municipal Councils, 41 Urban Councils and 271 Pradeshiya Sabhas. Elections were held only for 330 local government bodies in 2006, but later another five new local authorities were created. Elections for the majority of these bodies, except for a few were last held in 2011 on a staggered basis or in three stages. The tenure of almost all these local government authorities has long lapsed by now.  

 

 

There are 335 local government authorities in Sri Lanka which include 23 Municipal Councils, 41 Urban Councils and 271 Pradeshiya Sabhas. Elections were held only for 330 local government bodies in 2006, but later another five new local authorities were created

 

Elections for local authorities should be held in four years and thus they had been scheduled to be held in 2015 and 2016, a large majority being in 2015. However, an Act was passed in 2012 to change the electoral system from the Proportional Representation (PR) system to a mixed system of PR and first-past-the-post systems. The new system created a snag in holding elections in 2015, as wards had to be demarcated in areas under each local government body, under the new mixed system.  


A National Delimitation Committee for the demarcation of wards was thus appointed in December 2012. Nevertheless, in terms of the enactment of that Act and an amendment Act adopted in the same year, the then Local Government Minister could opt to continue to have the old electoral system (PR system) in place, until the conclusion of the delimitation process.  


However, prior to the conclusion of the delimitation process, the then Local Government Minister A. L. M. Athaullah published a Gazette Notification on January 1, 2013, which said that the provisions of the aforesaid amending Acts had come into operation fully and the previous electoral system has become defunct.  


The report of the National Delimitation Committee which was appointed by the previous government under the Chairmanship of Jayalath Ravi Dissanayake, a SLAS officer was submitted to the Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister of the new government Faizser Musthapha on June 19, 2015. However, consequent to the publication of it, the ministry had received over 1,000 complaints claiming that the delimitation process was flawed.   

 

It is well known that the powerful trade union of government doctors is in a collision course with the present government over the proposed ETCA agreement with India

 

Accordingly, a Cabinet sub- committee was appointed to look into the discrepancies in the demarcations of ward boundaries made by the Jayalath Dissanayake committee, followed by the Asoka Peiris committee in October 2015 for the same purpose. An all party conference was also held with the participation of the President and the Prime Minister with regard to the said issue.  
Asoka Peiris committee had completed its task within three months and Peiris had been quoted by the Sunday Times on January 3, 2016 as expressing confidence that he could hand over the final report of the committee by the January 31 deadline. However, it was postponed and the Government Information Department said on June 22, 2016 that the Report is expected to be handed over on August 31 which was also not happened.  


Again on December 26 Peiris had stated to the media that his report would be handed over to Minister Musthapha on the next day but again the Musthapha’s Ministry said the release of the report had been delayed owing to some administrative issues.   


In an interview with the Sunday Lankadeepa of January 1, this year Peiris had dropped a bombshell by saying that the Minister was asking him to drag on with the report and both the main political parties were keen to delay the report. He also alleged that the ministry was not providing adequate translators as well.   


The Minister had denied the allegations in an interview with the same paper in its next issue. Before that he had retaliated by refusing to accept the report from Peiris publicly at a media conference on January 2, the very next day Peiris’s accusation had been published, on the grounds that all five members had not signed it.   


Interestingly, the report had not then been signed by the representatives of the two main parties, including the minister’s party UPFA which were accused by Peiris for wanting to drag on. Finally the report was handed over to the Minister on January 17 this year.  

 

The EC was quoted this week by the PAFFREL that barring some technicalities, all issues pertaining to the staging of the LG polls had been ironed out. It has to be mentioned that the PAFFREL had filed a fundamental rights petition also in the Supreme Court in September last year, seeking an order for authorities to hold theLG elections

 

After all, in spite of the fact that the process to change the electoral system had started in 2003; necessary laws pertaining only to local government elections have been promulgated after 13 years.The Election Commission was quoted this week by the PAFFREL Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchie saying that barring some technicalities, all issues pertaining to the staging of the LG polls had been ironed out.  


It has to be mentioned that the PAFFREL had filed a fundamental rights petition also in the Supreme Court in September last year, seeking an order for authorities to hold the local government elections. Yet, the government has failed to announce at least a possible date for the holding of the local 
government elections.   


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