Amid confusion, contradictory reports and chaos, the Elections Commission on Monday issued notice for nominations to 93 local councils. These are the councils where there are no multi-member wards and thereby are not covered by the interim stay order issued by the Court of Appeal.
Reports say nominations may also be called this week for elections to 40 other councils where there are no legal problems. There are a total of 341 municipal councils, urban councils and pradeshiya sabahas with Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya saying staggered elections have been held before and are quite in order.
But in Parliament the joint opposition and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) have filed separate no-confidence motions against the Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister Faiszer Musthapha. They say the February 2017 gazette notification he issued was flawed and thereby caused confusion and a postponement. Some parties including the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) have called for the local council elections to be held under the old proportional representation system with the widely-criticised ‘manape’ or preferential votes also included.
Meanwhile, according to reports, both the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the JO have appointed high-level representatives to hold talks in a bid to bring about reconciliation between the two factions. But former president Mahinda Rajapaksa has made some tough demands and whatever happens it seams highly improbable that President Maithripala Sirisena would agree to any move that severs links with the United National Party (UNP) and a possible break-up of the National Unity Government. After the general elections in August 2015, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga worked out a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the UNP and the SLFP to work together to bring about racial and religious reconciliation and build a peaceful, just and all-inclusive society.
The MoU was for two years and President Sirisena has said he will take a decision before December 31 on whether it should be extended. Most analysts hope it would. Whatever the disputes over economic issues such as the Hambantota Port and the Trincomalee oil farm projects, the overall strategies outlined in the Vision 2025 sustainable economic development goals are far more important than any policy disputes. Therefore we hope the two main parties-working together for the first time since independence in 1948, will continue to work together.
President Sirisena appears to be keen on this, but some of the senior SLFP ministers appear to be attracted to the Rajapaksa faction despite allegations that family members, top officials and other associates plundered billions of rupees during the Rajapaksa regime. These cases have been delayed for about three years and we hope that the appointment of three special High Courts will expedite these cases and complete them within months rather than years.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has also expressed his wish to continue with the National Unity Government till 2020 or 2025, but controversies over the Presidential Commission appointed to probe the Central Bank bond issue have created some problems. Recently State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe issued a statement critical of the President’s move, but the President in a tough speech made at Nikaweratiya last week, vowed he would take action against anyone involved in corruption whether they be in the former regime or the present Government.
It is incumbent upon President Maithripala Sirisena to act in the national interest at this vital juncture.