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Provincial Council polls

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 26 April 2018 00:00

In a move that is likely to toss more oil on the current political fire, National Elections Commission (NEC) Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya this week called on Parliament to approve the necessary legislation to hold Provincial Council elections before September. However, any action by Parliament at this point triggering another round of elections may cause more problems rather than provide stability to the Coalition Government. 

Even though Cabinet met for the first time after the New Year on Tuesday, details were few on what was discussed at the gathering that also included Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Cabinet Ministers who have threatened to crossover. The potential crossover of 16 SLFPers who voted for the No-Confidence Motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has thrown the country into a frenzy of political speculation, as all stakeholders struggle to understand how the numbers in Parliament will play on the current Government make-up. 

To add more confusion to the matter, a new Cabinet has been proposed, but again few details are available on what or how changes would be made. Pressing another layer of confusion is the proposal by the JVP to present a 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Parliament, attempting to abolish the Executive Presidency. The Joint Opposition, whose numbers could be bolstered significantly if the crossovers take place, has indicated it could provide conditional support, but no major political party has clearly backed the move. The Joint Opposition has also said it wants to bring a No-Confidence Motion against main Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan and redouble its efforts to take over from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).  

Meanwhile President Maithripala Sirisena, who prorogued Parliament till 8 May, has said he would present a fresh policy statement at the next session. With so many variables in play, it is almost impossible to predict how the political situation will move forward before 8 May, as both the Cabinet and Parliament are under clouds of uncertainty.

In such a situation, even after 8 May, it is unlikely that moving forward with Provincial Council elections will be a priority. It is the duty of Deshapriya to raise the matter, as indefinite postponement of elections is detrimental to Sri Lanka’s democracy, but practical stakeholders will be concerned about their impact on national politics. As was amply demonstrated on 10 February, given the current political climate in Sri Lanka, every election ends up becoming a National one, even though the power of the appointees is limited to a lower level of governance. 

Given the current situation, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where the results of a Provincial poll would not have a deep impact on national governance. Politics has always been a passion in Sri Lanka, but continuing to focus obsessively on it could have significant repercussions on the economic front. Deshapriya had indicated that it is possible to hold Provincial Council polls in 2019 but that could mean the public would have to brace for two possible elections, Provincial and Presidential, in the same year. 

Traditionally, Governments approach elections years with loose fiscal policy and wide spending ambitions. If that becomes the case next year, high debt repayments coinciding with elections will certainly pose trying challenges for policymakers attempting to maintain macroeconomic stability.   

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