Much talked about local government election issue has surfaced again this time along with the three Provincial Council elections – North, North Central and Sabaragamuwa that will fall due around September this year. It is clear that the government at this juncture is not keen on having local government elections as they feel the ground situation is not in their favour, while there are also other priorities both in the economic and constitutional front. And therefore they have lessor time for popular politics.
However, for the Joint Opposition (JO) which has been fighting tooth and nail trying to get the government to hold local elections, it is a totally different ball game. There is a lot of pressure from the local level supporters of the JO as they have been out of power for too long and it is absolutely necessary for them to get back into the local bodies as early as possible, if they are to survive in politics.
Ever since, the local elections fell due, government used the delay in delimitation as an excuse to postpone them and finally delimitation report has been handed over and gazetted. Now, the other reason which gives the government opportunity to postpone the elections is the unresolved issue about whether to have them under ward system or Proportional Representation (PR) system.
The two local government elections amendment laws which were passed in 2012 make it mandatory for the government to have the elections under a mixed system of wards and PR. These legislations were passed with almost unanimous agreement because by that time most people were fed up with the existing PR system that had led to violence and unhealthy competition at elections.
Moreover, it was present JO leader Dinesh Gunawardena who as Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms that was instrumental in recommending the mixed system of elections for the local authorities. As such, the Joint Opposition has no objection over having LG elections under the mixed system.
However, it is no secret that small political parties would prefer the PR system as it is advantageous for them despite all other negatives for the country or the people. Leader of the Democratic People’s Front Minister Mano Ganeshan who contested last elections under the United National Front led by the UNP was one of the first to be vocal against the idea of holding LG polls under the mixed system.
Then, it was natural for the JVP that has been against the move right from the beginning also to join the band wagon and as a result there is a lot of disagreement among parties in the parliament over the mixed system.
Some of them led by the JVP are insisting on the PR system at least for this time until the matter is resolved later. However, the legal impediment is that while the newly passed LG election laws are in force there is no possibility to have LG elections under the PR system.
The only way out will be to pass another amendment to the law enabling the use of PR only for this time, but it will look a real mockery as the country has been striving for long to get rid of the much hated PR system. If that happens, there will be doubts as to whether electoral reforms will ever be possible in this country.
Mano Ganeshan has taken up the position that his fundamental rights as a member of a minor political party will be violated, if the elections are held under the mixed system. In case he decides to go to courts over this issue it can create another legal impediment to have the LG polls within the year.
How long will it take for them to agree on the new electoral mix or to further amend the law, if they wish to do so, is beyond the comprehension of any political analyst. One thing that is clear is the two governing parties are not interested in having the LG polls this year while the JO is hell bent on obtaining what they call a democratic right of the people.
Postponing local government elections is not new and it has a long history in our country. In the context of powers given to the minister in charge of the subject to call for elections, the government of the day has a wide say when deciding the timing of the local elections or postponing it. In this background there is doubt whether local elections will be held within this year.
About possible dates for LG elections many government ministers have made various statements, nevertheless each time-frame has passed without anything positive happening. It has come to a situation that statements made by politicians on this subject can no longer be viewed with any seriousness.
However, the recent statement made by Minister Mahinda Amaraweera about having Provincial Elections within the year can be viewed differently, especially in the light of what Chairman of the Election Commission Mahinda Deshapriya had said recently. Heindicated that there is no legal provision to postpone the Provincial Council elections which means polls for all three provinces will have to be held at least by October.
In case that view is upheld there is a strong possibility that all three provincial elections will be held on the same way. The government also will have lessor problems as they will not have to concentrate on the whole country. The other advantage is whatever is going to be the outcome of such elections government will not be risking its popularity throughout the country.
However, immediate issue will be on what basis the two governing parties should contest. If they contest as separate parties while the current division in the SLFP remains as it is, the advantage will go to the UNP. The options will be to get Mahinda Rajapaksa faction also under the same umbrella, to get a sizable faction from the JO to join the Maithri faction of the SLFP or for the two governing parties under President Maitripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to come to some electoral arrangement to contest as an alliance.
Assuming that they will go for one of those options then the strong possibility is that they will hold the three PC elections simultaneously within this year and the future of the local polls will be decided depending on the outcome of these elections.
Cabinet reshuffle in the offing
‘Reshuffle’ has been one of the most frequently used words in the political lexicon of our country over the last several months. The talk about a major cabinet reshuffle has been surfacing intermittently with some of the ministers likely to be affected denying such possibility. However some ministers who are in favour of changes have mentioned that both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have, in principle, agreed on the need for such a reshuffle.
The demand for a reshuffle first came from the members of the Maithri faction of the SLFP who insisted on the removal of some of the ministers who are accused of corruption from the UNP side, but later similar allegations have been made against ministers from the other camp as well. The delay in reshuffle is understandable because of the sensitivities involved in running a two party government.
There were strong speculations about a possible reshuffle weeks ago around the time President Maithripla made his official visit to Indonesia. However, it did not happen as anticipated and now there are even stronger speculations that President on his return from the Moscow trip will make the tough decision.
The strongest indication to this effect came from none other than State Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena who on Thursday said that President Sirisena in the next few weeks will be making some decisions which are crucial both politically and economically. He said the decisions to be made by the President would ensure political stability in the country as well as the stability of the SLFP.
Meanwhile, in a related development a group of ministers from the Maithri faction of the SLFP has almost threatened to leave whatever the portfolios they are holding at the moment and form a separate group distinct from the JO and act independently in the parliament.
All these are clear signs that a reshuffle is almost inevitable this time as any further delay can cause more split in the SLFP and surely President Sirisena will not want such a situation to emerge.