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Polls and politics

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Monday, 11 September 2017 00:29

Elections have returned to the limelight again with the Government working with other parties to proceed with polls under a mixed system.

Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister Faiszer Musthapha last week said that originally it was intended to give the power to Parliament to determine the date for polls for all provincial councils on one single day but now that power is vested with the Elections Commission (EC).

The minister said new amendments would be moved in Parliament during the committee stage debate later this month, taking into consideration the suggestions made by the Attorney General to the Supreme Court. The courts are currently hearing 13 petitions filed by parliamentarians and civil society organisations challenging the constitutionality of the amendment.

The decision, which will postpone the PC polls for another year comes after a Cabinet memorandum to introduce new mixed electoral reforms. The Cabinet granted approval this week to undertake the task of formulating new mixed electoral reforms which will be applicable to all polls in the country.

According to the existing law, fresh elections have to be called for within seven days after a provincial council’s five-year term ends. The proposed new mixed electoral system for all local government bodies will see 60% of the members elected through a First-Past-the-Post (FPP) system and the rest through the Proportional Representation (PR) system.

Musthapha said that the Government was planning to call for elections to all local government bodies by the end of December or early January. The Elections Commission will decide on the date. However, the minister also noted some technical amendments with regard to the FPP-PR ration have to be made to the recently passed Local Government Amendment Act.

As of now eight PCs except the North Central have rejected the proposed 20th Amendment and demanded more changes as most of them objected to provisions that give Parliament the power now vested in PCs. The Government has managed to gain the provisional support of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) provided that amendments are made to existing draft legislation.

Clearer indications of the Government readying for elections could emerge in Budget 2018, which the Finance Minister is expected to present on 9 November. It is expected to include a host of new measures such as Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for ministries and projects as well as stricter performance criteria for state enterprises. Alongside these could be new provisions targeted at attracting voters to what will be an important political test for the Coalition Government formed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Both the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP) would take the remaining months to shore up their party infrastructure to face an election challenge. Other fringe parties such as the JVP and also minority parties may benefit from the change of the electoral system.

Weak institutions mean that elections are crucial for the public to voice their view of the Government in power and provide checks and balances. However, faced with the task of fiscal consolidation and high debt on one side and elections on the other, the Government will have a tough task ahead no matter what system is eventually decided.

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