Nobody would contest the view aired by President Maithripala Sirisena on the need to amend the Local Government Elections Act again in order to reduce the number of local government members from 8,000 to 4,000. Speaking to the Editors and heads of media institutions on Friday, the President had said that the present number of LG members is an unbearable burden for the country.
True, but why didn’t the politicians who joined hands to double the number of LG members through an amendment to the same Act in 2012 understand that it would be a burden? The number of LG members was increased in the process of eliminating the flaws in the said Act, such as the preferential voting system that had led to inter party as well as intra-party violence. But the price people have to pay for it is disproportionate to the benefit they get, because the government has to spend not only for the salaries of those elected to the local councils, but it has also to expand the meeting halls, facilities for the members etc. Yet, the local councils would not double their services.
The responsibility for this blunder lies in all political parties that represented the Parliament since 2003, as the current mixed electoral system was brought in through a Parliamentary select committee process. What they have done was to make way for another set of politicians to plunder public funds just for their inability to find a better electoral system. However, with the first election under the new mixed electoral system almost all political parties, winners as well as the losers have been frustrated with it. Soon after the February 10 LG election, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa too had suggested to change the current electoral system claiming that it did not project the real position on the ground, in spite of his newly founded Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) sweeping the councils.
The high number of councilors is not the only malady with the new mixed electoral system. Pathetically, many councils, though their members had been elected by the people at the February 10 election are yet to be instituted by electing their chairmen and deputy chairmen, despite two months having lapsed since that election. Many councils saw pandemonium and fisticuffs during their institution and the main cause for this situation was the inability of the party with highest number of seats to command the confidence of the majority members of the council, as a result of the collective strength of the Opposition parties being more. This chaotic situation is to continue throughout the term of the council as well as after the next LG elections, preventing the ruling party of the councils from getting any resolution passed.
By the time the law is changed to reduce the number of members and to alleviate these problems, as the President had rightly suggested, many councils might have got their assembly halls expanded, demolishing the existing ones. Then again they would have to be changed to suit them to the reduced number of members.
The Government in a controversial move, had amended the Provincial Councils Elections’ Act towards the end of last year in order to introduce the mixed electoral system for the provincial councils elections as well. Thereafter the delimitation committee headed by Dr. K. Thavalingam that demarcated the wards of provincial councils had handed over its report to the Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha on February 19. Therefore we can expect a similar chaotic situation after the forthcoming provincial council elections as well. The situation would be worse as the same Provincial Councils Elections’ Amendment Act stipulates a mandatory female representation as well. It must be recalled that the mandatory female representation, despite all its good intentions, had created a mess in many local government bodies soon after the elections. And it was due to the election of members under both the PR system and the first-past-post-system that the number of LG members has doubled.
Therefore, it is high time for the political parties to collectively address these issues without wasting time on power politics.