The continuous delay in conducting Local Government and Provincial Councils polls after the expiry of their terms of office has created quite a controversy and made political parties, the public and the election monitoring NGOs impatient. The Daily Mirror spoke to Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister Faiszer Musthapha, the political authority who is responsible for the Local Government and PC polls and enacting of relevant legislations. Following are excerpts of the interview.
- The first delimitation report was full of errors, blunders and mistakes making it extremely difficult to implement them
- Our target for PC polls for the North-Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern provinces is March, 2018. The Government will hold Local Government Polls before
- January 2018
- It’s pertinent to say that the majority of the public doesn’t have a good knowledge of delimitation. Following a census, the delimitation process of electorates and wards in the local Government level takes place during which the old delimitations are effected
- There are more than 50 Technical Amendments to be incorporated in the local government electoral system following the passage of the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill on August 25
- The claim by the joint opposition that the Rajapaksa regime conducted polls on time and in a democratic manner doesn’t hold water because the former president’s regime held elections when the time was right for the Government
Unfortunately, this report had been prepared by a team of officials doing their job in an air-conditioned office on the whims and fancies of the strong man of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa
Q The delay in finalizing the delimitation process in respect to the Provincial Councils and the passing of technical amendments for the Local Government electoral process has delayed the conducting of polls to the two political administrative bodies. How and why?
The delimitation process was delayed for more than one and half years after the first report was handed over to then Minister of Local Government, Provincial Councils and Home Affairs Minister Karu Jayasuriya in August 2015.
The then Parliamentary Select Committee chaired by Dinesh Gunawardene on local Government electoral reforms proposed the mixed electoral system; a combination of the proportional representation and the first past the post. The relevant Act No. 22 of 2012 originated based on the recommendations of the Dinesh Gunawardana Committee. This Act introduces four ways of delimitation. Diversity of population, density of population, level of economic development, and the geographical and physical factors were the matters on which delimitation was based on.
A National Delimitation Committee was appointed to look into the delimitation process recommended by the Gunawardana Select Committee. After two-and-a-half years of deliberations, it released a report in August 2015.
There had been changes in the population levels in the electorates. Earlier it was 75,000 persons for every 1,000 square miles. Later it was increased to 90,000.
Unfortunately, this report had been prepared by a team of officials doing their job in an air-conditioned office on the whims and fancies of the strong man of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, with the SLFP being extremely favoured. In fact the recommendations of the old delimitation report were a shortcut to keep the SLFP in power at the local Government level for ever.
Almost all the political parties, a majority of local Government bodies, the civil society and the minority parties in Particular vehemently opposed this report. I as the subject minister had no option but to appoint a new committee to conduct the delimitation process in a fair, balanced and transparent manner. It was for this purpose that I, on the advice of President Maithripala Sirisena with the guidance of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, appointed the five member Asoka Peiris Committee, that represents all political parties in Parliament. This was after putting the much flawed first delimitation report to the dust bin.
I must say with gratitude that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe took much pain to obtain the consensus of all dissenting political parties in Parliament on delimitation. This was after a several rounds of discussions by all party confabs.
It is pertinent to say that the majority of the public doesn’t have a fair knowledge of delimitation. Following a census, the delimitation process of electorates and wards at local Government level takes place during which the old delimitations were effected.
On PC polls, the Government wanted to conduct all elections for all 9 PCs on a single day, departing from the Rajapaksa policy of conducting PC polls on a scattered basis, a system which was advantageous to the ruling party. This highly undemocratic and corrupt electoral system gave the opportunity to pool all state resources of the Government in its favour and ensure victory.
It was a known fact that the previous regime used state vehicles, state funds, public officials, the Police and the armed forces to ensure victory at the PC polls. This was extremely disadvantageous to the opposition.
Thus, the claim by the Joint Opposition that the Rajapaksa regime conducted polls on time in a democratic manner doesn’t hold water because the Rajapaksa regime held elections when the time was right for the Government.
I must say with gratitude that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe took much pain to obtain the consensus of all dissenting political parties in Parliament on delimitation. This was after a several rounds of discussions by all party confabs
Q What is this controversy regarding the technical amendments that have held back the conducting of Local Government polls?
There are more than 50 Technical Amendments to be incorporated in the Local Government Electoral System following the passage of the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill on August 25. The Government intends to pass these technical amendments this month (October) to pave the way for the conducting of Local Government Polls in December (2017) or January next year.
Our target regarding PC polls for the North-Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern provinces is March, 2018.
Q And what about the delimitation in respect of PC polls?
Yes, a de-limitation committee on Provincial Councils has to be instituted within 14 days after the passing of the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill in keeping with the law. President Maithripala Sirisena has already appointed a five-member committee which includes the three members of the National Delimitation Commission. The two other members represent the minorities. The five member delimitation committee on PCs is free to appoint technical committees if required to expedite the delimitation process.
Q Why did you appoint a committee of officials headed by Asoka Peiris to review the previous report and submit a new report?
As I pointed out earlier, the first delimitation report was full of errors, blunders and mistakes making it extremely difficult to implement it. The situation was further aggravated when almost all the political parties, the minority parties in particular, protested against the recommendations stating that the recommendations were highly disadvantageous to them. Therefore, I had no option, but to rectify the error and appoint the five member committee led by senior administrative officer Asoka Peiris.
The other 4 members were selected from the UNP, SLFP, TNA and the JVP. However, I must say that the committee had done a satisfactory job in submitting a report to eliminate the mistakes and errors found in the first report.
The difference between the JO and the opposition of another country is that they (The Opposition in a foreign country) have not stooped to this low level.
Q But the finalizing of delimitation on PCs and technical amendments for the Local Government Polls are still long overdue. Your comments?
The Government is determined to hold polls for three PCs now under the governors’ rule in the first quarter of 2018 and Local Government Elections before January 2018.
Q The Provincial Councils Elections (Amendment) Bill was passed in Parliament last month which introduces a mixed electoral system. The Bill has reduced the ratio of elected members to a PC under the first past the post system to 50% from earlier agreed 60% and increased the ratio of those who will be elected under the proportional representation system to 50% from the earlier 40%. Why is this?
This was done with the consent of all political parties except that of the JO. The minority parties wanted to increase the Proportional Representation to 50%. The increasing of PR representation will also help for a wider representation of women and youth at the PCs which is a healthy development. However, a minimum of 25% of women representation in PC is a legal requirement now.
Q Why the Joint Opposition and Mahinda Rajapaksa faction are carrying out a virulent campaign against you and the Unity Government alleging that both of you want to delay Local Government Polls and PC Polls?
It isn’t a surprise at all. The JO led by the Mahinda Rajapaks faction must spread lies, fabrications, misinformation and distortions for their survival in politics. The difference between the JO and the opposition of another country is that they (The Opposition in a foreign country) have not stooped to this low level. The Opposition in other countries always are critical of the Government, but their allegations against the regime are true and their comments are productive.
I would like to draw your attention to the time when Sri Lanka in a ground breaking initiative launched its first ever fully fledged free pre-hospital care ambulance service- a gift from India- which boasted of 88 vehicles.
The JO went to town with an absolute lie stating that the entire service was manned by Indian doctors, paramedics, nurses and even drivers. This was a ruse by them to make the public believe that the whole exercise was to plant sleuths of the RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), in Sri Lanka. I mustn’t elaborate more on this heinous act of the JO. The people in the country have now realized the service rendered by this ambulance service and whether there is a single Indian serving them.
The lies and misinformation spread on the proposed new Constitutional process is no different.
The Govt. intends to pass these technical amendments this month to pave the way for the conducting of Local Government Polls in December or January next year
Q Can you say with confidence that the two pieces of legislations would address the aspirations and grievances of all political parties, the voters, members of local bodies and PCs and the minority political parties?
Yes, indeed. The two pieces of legislations have been passed with the consent of all minority parties. They voted in support of the Government to pass them in Parliament. These legislations were passed with more than a two thirds majority.
Q The JO says that the Government fears conducting polls. How are SLFP’s the preparations for the forthcoming Local Government and PC polls?
The Government doesn’t fear conducting polls. I repeat, the Local Government Polls will be held before January 2018. The SLFP has already taken measures to select candidates for all Local Government bodies.
Party leader Maithripala Sirisena has instructed the organizations at the grassroots, district and constituent level, women and youth wings to start electioneering and get organized themselves to ensure a big victory for the SLFP. I think the UNP has also started its campaign for Local Government Polls.