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Time to get to work

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The national level political fallout from the Local Government elections continues to dominate public discourse but that should not overshadow a larger commitment to hold the 8,325 newly-selected councillors to their promises and ensure they remain corruption-free and accountable for their actions over the next five years.  

The Local Government polls were important for reasons other than to test the popularity of the Government. It introduced a new electoral system to Sri Lanka and this first term will test its efficacy only if public involvement is at its core and the people demand that their local governments become better managed, reduce wastage and fight corruption. 

The public fight against corruption and the movement towards good governance can make a critical restart in the aftermath of these elections. 

It is a time to tell even the re-elected politicians who may have served terms under the previous Government that the change in 2015 was real and while political commitment to end corruption might be flagging, the people’s commitment to it has not waned. If this message does not come across at the start, this latest batch of councillors is in danger of becoming oblivious to the message of the masses. This must not be allowed to happen.     

As much as the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) loves to tout its victory, the reality is that they did not get 51% of the vote and will have to form coalitions with other political parties in order to govern many of the wards and districts. As the public has seen over the last three years, coalition politics is a dangerous animal that can bottleneck policy and rarely works to fast-track reform. Therefore it is doubly important for the public to be vigilant to ensure that this same stagnation does not happen to the local governments. 

Thirdly, these local government bodies will see an unprecedented number of female councillors. For the first time there is the opportunity for strong women’s voices to be raised on critical issues and for gender-sensitive decision-making. The women’s quota is an important reform that took decades of fighting to achieve and this hard won opportunity should not be squandered by enmeshed patriarchal attitudes and by politics-as-usual. 

The quota system in local governments is critically important to push forward the progressive agenda of women’s representation and should be a platform to enable more women are elected to the provincial and parliament level in the future. In fact it would be accurate to say the hardest part of the battle is ahead and the performance of the women will have to be better than their male counterparts to take this cause forward. 

This is the chance to give 52% of the population a voice. It must not be sacrificed to political expediency. Hopefully the elected female candidates know what is at stake.

The SLPP so far has shown itself to be a party obsessed with national politics and returning former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to some semblance of power. Yet they must not forget that the mandate given to them is to develop the village and improve the lot of the average person. In this task they will for the first time come into contact with the Sri Lankan public who have shown themselves to be demanding stakeholders. The SLPP must now understand it is its duty to genuinely serve the people.           

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