he terms of office of three councils in the Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces have lapsed in September and October 2017, and those of another three councils in the Central, Northern and North western Provinces expired in September last year. All six councils are now under the respective governors rendering the purpose of the institution of Provincial Councils null and void, especially in respect of the Northern and Eastern Councils for which the very Provincial Council system was established.
Although the said Act was amended in a surreptitious and controversial manner and by passing an earlier order by the Supreme Court not to postpone PC polls, it is the law now that the elections have to be held under the mixed electoral system. However, the delimitation process which has to be completed before nominations are called is not moving and thus elections are not in sight.
Against this backdrop, a consensus is gradually being built among almost all political parties to hold elections under the old PR system, mainly because of the delay in conducting polls. There also seems to be a move by certain politicians to further delay the elections under the pretext of holding polls to all nine councils together.
Nobody will oppose any genuine move to hold elections to all Provincial Councils on the same day instead of holding them on a staggered basis. Holding elections in stages would cost the public coffers more and the elections held later would be influenced by the results of the ones held previously. However, the last to end its term will be the Uva Provincial Council which would stand dissolved only in September this year. Hence, delaying elections further is unfair by voters of the Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces who are longing to elect their representatives since late 2017.
The government’s argument that elections cannot be held because the delimitation process has not been completed is in a way contrary to the stance it took some time ago. Former Provincial Councils Minister Faiszer Musthapha, when he was with the same UNF leaders, was of the opinion that in spite of the mixed electoral system having been introduced in respect to LG polls, those elections could have been held under the old PR system had former Minister Athaullah not issued a gazette stating the new system had come into force.
Commenting on JO MP Udaya Gammanpila’s allegation on the delay in holding LG polls, Minister Musthapha said, “In terms of the law, at the enactment of the said Acts, the then Local Government Minister could opt to continue to have the old electoral system in place until the conclusion of the delimitation process or to fully-implement the said Acts. However, prior to the conclusion of the aforesaid delimitation process on January 1, 2013, the then Local Government Minister A.L.M. Athaullah promulgated a gazette notification whereby the provisions of the aforesaid amending Acts have fully come into operation and the previous electoral system has become defunct.”
No political party countered former Minister Mustapha’s argument. Hence, why should it not apply now to the Provincial Council elections? He says the Local Government Minister could have opted to continue to have the old electoral system in place until the conclusion of the Local Government delimitation process. Then, the Provincial Councils Minister too can opt to continue to have the old electoral system in place until the conclusion of the provincial delimitation process.
Besides, the delay in holding elections, the mixed electoral system proved to be a messy system as we witnessed during and after LG polls in February last year. It doubled the number of councillors, further burdening the taxpayer apart from misrepresenting the real ground situation. Therefore, the government and the Election Commission can act accordingly.