Faiszer Musthapha

Minister of Local Government and Provincial Councils Faiszer Musthapha in an interview with the Nation claimed that the next local government elections was getting delayed until he is able to present a good report on the delimitation process. The minister noted that the president and the prime minister were keen to hold the elections at the earliest and charged that the earlier report prepared by the authorities had been done in a manner to force it down on the people.

Following are excerpts of the interview.

Q: You have previously stated that you wished to hold the Local Government polls by June this year. Do you still hold by this statement?
My intent is to hold the elections as soon as possible. We cannot give you a date, but I assure you that it will be as soon as possible.

Q:Can you give us reasons as to the reasons for the delay?
When we began the appeal process based on Act No. 22 of 2012, there have been many complexities. The delimitation process has not been done justly, and there has been no consultative process. The way that wards have been demarcated is absurd. There is a national park on one side and somebody’s boundary on the other. It appears to be a discriminatory process and a sinister attempt to marginalize the representation of minorities. It took three years for the Delimitation report to be submitted and over 2000 wards have been found to be problematic. Even critiques of the polls agree to this. We cannot have the polls until all of these issues are cleared.

Q:So could you give us a deadline by which time you would hold the polls?
As early as possible. President Maithripala Sirisena has given us the task of doing a proper job regarding the polls. It would not be just by them if I give a date. So far we have visited six districts in three months and there are 19 more districts to visit. The former report has been done, in Sinhala we say ‘seethala kaamare indhan vaartha hadhanawa’ (Making proposals sitting in air-conditioned room). Some say that the previous report was forced down upon the people, some say it was built on the whims and fancies of a particular individual, but the president has said that this report has to be just by all people of this country.  I have instructed the present committee to meet civil society and to obtain a consensus. Once it is complete we will hold the elections without any further delay.

Q:The JVP and other factions have been gunning to hold elections as soon as possible under the old system. Why do you disagree with this?
All political parties agree that the present PR system and preferential vote system is detrimental to the country. Even President Maithripala Sirisena had won his mandate saying that he will change this system in regard to all elections. Unless we start from the change which already exists in Act No. 22 of 2012, we cannot move forward. We will not revert back to the old system. We cannot move the bus backwards; we can only take it forward.

Q:If these problems take longer than expected, would it not be undemocratic not to hold the elections?
We would not take more time than required. I give you that guarantee. We are working on making things right, so that democracy will be upheld.

Q:There are those that say that the government is purposefully postponing the local government polls to neutralize the threat of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the upcoming polls. Do you agree?
President Maithripala Sirisena and I took on the challenge and defeated President Mahinda Rajapaksa on January 8 and we defeated him at the presidential polls. The president is not fearful of anything, and under his leadership, SLFP will go from strength to strength. The dissidents trying to cause friction in the party are knowingly or unknowingly undertaking a contract on behalf of the UNP, because if the SLFP is divided it will be to the benefit of the UNP.

Q:This postponement of the elections could be deemed as a violation of the people’s rights. Would you agree?
Which I believe we have not violated. There are those that have gone to the Supreme Court challenging this postponement, but I am confident we can defend.

Q:The Chairman of the Commission of Elections, Mahinda Deshapriya has stated that nobody has the right to postpone elections, and that the elections commission had discretion to decide on a date to hold the elections. What is your opinion on this?
He is perfectly right. Even he had acknowledged that as soon as the process is completed the elections can be held. We are also stating the same. Everybody is awaiting the report. Therefore, neither is he usurping my power nor me usurping his power.

Q:Does the President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe agree with these moves to postpone the elections?
We are a very democratic government. They have given me authority and I am trying to fulfill the task they have entrusted me with. There is no question of President Maithripala Sirisena or Prime Minister Ranil  Wickremesinghe requesting to postpone the election. All they have stated is that I have to present a good report of the delimitation process.

Q-Do you feel that a different authority such as the president or prime minister or elections commissioner would interfere and force an election?
This government follows a non-interference policy and nobody has forced any statutory authority to do anything. They are permitted to function as is fit for the task. Therefore the question is whether this Government follows a democratic process by entrusting a person with a task without interfering in his activities, and I believe that is so.