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Safeguarding democracy


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Provincial Council elections have returned to dominate headlines as party leaders remain sharply divided on how to proceed with the next round of polls. This has promoted calling for a parliamentary debate and a discourse on how to resolve differences to ensure that the people’s franchise is not affected and the smooth functioning of provincial councils can be taken forward.  

Earlier this year after the Local Government elections were held, the Elections Commissioner went on record urging party leaders and parliamentarians to fast-track the remaining work to enable the vote to be held as soon as possible. A party leaders meeting held this week, however, shows that strong divisions remain on whether to hold the polls under the new system introduced in the Local Government elections or to revert to the previous system. 

According to media reports during the meeting, which was presided over by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and included Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha, contrary views emerged. Minister Musthapha has told political party representatives that President Maithripala Sirisena was of the view that the upcoming PC polls should be held under the new mixed electoral system.

In keeping with the President’s view, the Minister had said the Delimitation Committee (DC) report which was submitted to Parliament would be taken up for debate shortly to hold elections under the new mixed system. The approval of the commission report with a two-thirds majority is required to hold elections under the new system where new provincial boundaries have been demarcated.

However, other parties, including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), opposed the idea of holding the polls under the new system and urged the minister to go for the old system without postponing elections any longer.

The UNP also expressed a similar opinion, noting that many procedural steps needed to be taken to hold the PC polls under the new system and that the whole process would consume a significant amount of time. Other minor parties also sided with the old system option and had expressed displeasure at any postponement. 

It is important to understand that elections are an essential part of a democracy. A country cannot be truly democratic until its citizens have the opportunity to choose their representatives through elections that are free and fair. Critical development efforts cannot succeed without a legitimate and democratically-elected government, even at the provincial level, that is responsive and accountable to its citizens. 

Sri Lankans, especially, have traditionally resented having their franchise delayed and at times have expressed their discontent by increasing their support for the Opposition. The Local Government elections also came under much criticism for their delay and the Government would better serve its people by finding a way to engage more actively, consistently and comprehensively to resolve outstanding matters on the Provincial Council elections and work to hold them at the earliest possible opportunity. 

The Provincial Councils also hold much responsibility in running education, healthcare and other services in the country and cannot be allowed to become defunct as they would hamper the public. Politics, it has been said, is the art of the possible and therefore as many of the political parties as possible have to find a convergence point to ensure that the people can use their franchise in a timely manner.           


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