The news pieces related to conducting provincial council elections have popped up in the mainstream media once again. First, Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) leader MP Mano Ganeshan broke the news last Friday on his Twitter feed. He communicated that Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, an influential decision-maker and player of the government, conveyed the government’s consent to conduct the elections under the system of proportional representation as early as possible next year. According to Mr. Ganeshan, Mr. Rajapaksa did it at the meeting of the parliamentary select committee on electoral reforms.
In a follow-up development, Leader of the House Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardane who chairs the committee informed that such elections could not be conducted without amending the law concerned, as per the advice of the Attorney General. At the very next session of the select committee, the government indicated that it would bring in a new piece of legislation to call for elections under the proportional representation system.
The government’s announcement was timed with the arrival of Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla who reiterated India’s longstanding position that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which provides for the establishment of provincial councils, should be implemented in full. With such timing, it leaves scope for anyone to interpret that the government stepped in to initiate action for elections only at the behest of India. In recent months, India has renewed its call for the reconstitution of provincial councils after a respite for some time.
India’s commitment to the realizations of interests of Sri Lankan Tamils and improved, enhanced connectivity with them is all too obvious. The establishment of the state-of-the art cultural centre in Jaffna and the proposal for ferry connectivity between Kankesanthurai and Karaikkal in South India speak volumes about it. India has committed US $ 15 million for the development of Buddhist ties as well. India will undoubtedly be happy to see the elections being conducted in Sri Lanka for the re-constitution of the provincial councils- some of them remaining defunct since 2017.
Nevertheless, it is also in the political interests of Basil Rajapaksa and his Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to go for polls, probably in the middle of next year. The rudder of the SLPP is in the hands of Basil.
He opened up his mind at the latest select committee meeting saying that it is inappropriate to keep the provincial administration under the purview of individual governors without elected representatives. Then, the re-constitution of the provincial councils after an electoral process is in line with his political thinking.
Likewise, as far as the SLPP is concerned, such elections will be helpful for it to ensure political authority, perks and benefits for its second tier of leaders who are yearning for them at the moment. There are people aspiring to become provincial chief ministers in the party. Land Minister S.M. Chandrasena’s brother S.M. Ranjith and Transport Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi’s husband Kanchana Jayaratne are two of them, for example.
More importantly, the SLPP, as the ruling party, is aiming at an electoral victory at this juncture though it is a daunting task due to public unrest against the ruling side over multiple issues. The government’s popularity is on the wane over a myriad of issues ranging from the skyrocketing cost of living to the epic crisis in the agriculture sector with farmers agitating to get fertilizer in time for cultivation this time.
Public wrath is so much so that it induced confidence in the minds of the leaders of the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). Emboldened by the situation, SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, on several occasions, called for elections because of such confidence. His confidence is on reasonable grounds since the government has been engulfed by waves of criticism both from within and outside.
However, the SLPP views the situation through a different prism. It is mulling new strategies to regain confidence. In the 2022 budget which is expected to be presented to Parliament this month, the ruling party will aim at addressing concerns of constituents in view of any election during the first half of next year. The SLPP believes that implementation of such proposals will help it regain confidence from people, eventually making electoral victory a reality.
Performance at any election at this juncture is detrimental to both the governing party and the Opposition. It will definitely chart the future path for them.
Therefore, both the parties won’t be taking it in a lighter vein. As things stand at the moment, nothing is predictable. The government obviously does not have a good standing among people because of its failure to deliver according to the expectations of people. But, six months’ time is a long period in politics.
Public wrath is so much so that it induced confidence in the minds of the leaders of the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). Emboldened by the situation, SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, on several occasions, called for elections because of such confidence
However, the conduct of provincial councils will evoke the wrath of the nationalist forces that played a role in bringing this government to power. They agitate for a new constitution along with an electoral system instead of conducting the provincial council elections under the system of proportional representation. In fact, they stand for scrapping the system altogether. In the event of the government deciding to hold elections, it will have to reconcile such internal differences. Otherwise, it will be seen as a move against the mandate.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sounded mindful of the need to evolve a new constitution and a new electoral system.
He reassured that it would be done at a recent function. One question that dominates the entire spectrum of the electoral discourse is whether any future election will be conducted under the current system of proportional representation or a mixed system of it and the First Past the Post system. Electoral reforms are something much sought after by people who voted for this government.