The political parties that launched a massive protest against the Provincial Council system 31 years ago, leading to hundreds of deaths are making a big hue and cry now demanding the Government to hold elections for the same provincial councils. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the main party that took to the streets then claiming that the Provincial Councils would lead to the division of the country has been running the administrations of several Provincial Councils since 1994.
The majority of the leaders and the members of the SLFP have left the party to join the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), leaving a small group of the party led by President Maithripala Sirisena to hold its name, SLFP.
If the SLPP does not now hold the stance that the Provincial Councils would divide the country, would its leaders take the responsibility for the lives of the hundreds of people who were killed in the late 1980s while agitating against the creation of provincial councils?
The main slogan of the SLPP and the Joint Opposition now seems to be related to the elections for the three Provincial Councils that stand dissolved after the expiry of their tenure in October last year.
They know that the Government cannot hold the elections for those three councils as there are technical issues to be sorted out after the introduction of the mixed electoral system for Provincial Council elections last September. Yet, they make a big fuss over these elections in order to embarrass the Government before the people who are not acquainted of the election laws.
On the other hand, the new mixed electoral system which has caused the delay in holding of Provincial Council elections was introduced by a Parliamentary Select Committee headed by Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) leader Dinesh Gunawardane during the tenures of Presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Only the ratio between the number of members elected under the First-Past-The-Post (FPP) system and the Proportional Representation (PR) was decided during the present regime, by the party leaders.
The SLPP Chairman, former Constitutional Affairs Minister Professor G.L. Peiris had recently said that his party would take legal action against the National Elections Commission over the delay in holding Provincial Council elections.
This seems to be just a ploy to pressurize and embarrass the Government over the matter. The Chairman of the Elections Commission Mahinda Deshapriya had told last week in an interview with the Sunday Lankadeepa that the ball was now in the Parliament’s court and not in his.
He had explained clearly the reasons for the delay in holding elections for the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central provincial councils.
When the Commission was preparing to hold these elections in December last year the relevant election Act was amended in September in the same year compelling the Commission to delay the elections until the delimitation of wards in Provincial Council areas was completed, he had stated. After the enactment of the Provincial Councils Elections Amendment Act to introduce the mixed electoral system, a fundamental rights petition was filed against its adoption in the Parliament by former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva on the grounds that the new electoral system was introduced in a fraudulent manner through an amendment to another amendment to the original Act, without giving prior notice to the House and the Supreme Court.
However, it was dismissed by the Supreme Court last month.
The new electoral system necessitated wards and a Delimitation Commission was appointed to demarcate the boundaries of the wards. The Delimitation Commission’s Chairman K. Thavalingam had handed over his Commission’s report to Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Mustapha recently.
The Minister, in turn, has presented it to Parliament for ratification. Mr Deshapriya in his interview explained that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya had included the matter in the Order Paper of Parliament, but the House had not taken it for discussion yet. In the meantime, a section of Parliamentarians affiliated to both the ruling party and the Opposition now demands that the law must be changed again to enable the Provincial Council elections to be held under the old PR system.
Before the mixed electoral system was introduced it was only the small and minority parties that preferred the PR system. But it was after the February 10 Local Government elections that many flaws in the mixed system were identified.
"The main slogan of the SLPP and the Joint Opposition now seems to be related to the elections for the three Provincial Councils that stand dissolved after the expiry of their tenure in October last year "
In the wake of the LG elections even former President Mahinda Rajapaksa under whose leadership the SLPP swept the electorate had stated that the new system had to be changed again as it had created a mess in many LG bodies.
An “all-party” meeting chaired by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was held on August 1 at the Temple Trees, the official residence of the Prime Minister to discuss the electoral system under which the PC election should be conducted.
It reportedly ended inconclusively.
Joint Opposition and the JVP, (two groups) which press the Government to hold the PC elections right away had not participated in the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reported that Elections Commission Chief Deshapriya and K. Thavalingam, who served as the Chairmen of the Delimitation Commission had resigned from a six-member committee appointed by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe citing “conflict of interest” involved in the process.
There are strong grounds not only for the politicians but also for the people to reject the mixed-electoral system in its present form, despite it having been experimented with only at the last LG polls. It doubled the number of LG members (From around 4000 to 8000).
Without a cut-off point for political parties to be eligible to represent the councils, many small parties won seats creating an Opposition larger than the ruling party in many councils.
This muddled situation was further aggravated by the ridding of the bonus seat system that strengthened the winning parties earlier.
There are no signs of this controversy over the electoral system being sorted out in the near future, despite predictions being made by Government Ministers that the elections would be held in January next year.
The allegation by the Opposition that the Government wanted the PC elections to be postponed is not without reasons.When the Supreme Court ruled in September last year that the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill was not consistent with the Constitution on the grounds that it would cause the postponement of Provincial Council elections, the Government sneaked in the mixed electoral system, which in fact necessitated the postponement of PC elections as an amendment to another Bill and got adopted.
Not only the PC elections but rather the whole PC system has become a mess and meaningless.
The proportionality between the service done by the PCs and the funds spent for maintenance is questionable. They have just become a forum for the politicians in the Parliament to groom their sons and daughters as politicians.
The system was meant mainly for the resolution of the ethnic problem. In fact, PCs were to be created initially only in the north and the east.
That means only the Tamil dominated provinces needed such a mechanism under the power devolution. But even the Northern Provincial Council does not seem to have understood it.
The NPC is now being accused of being over-politicized. The Sunday Times in its July 29 issue reported that the NPC had adopted 415 resolutions during its five-year tenure, seven resolutions a day it had met, but many resolutions adopted had been related to issues which mostly do not come within the purview of the NPC.