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SC determination on 20A to be announced by Speaker on Tuesday; if Referendum is required, 3 PC polls will be held first UNP on a g plans, but S position ag
Plans are on the drawing board for the two coalition partners – the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP) - to contest each other at an upcoming Provincial Council or Local Government election.
It is most likely the PC polls will come first followed by elections to local government institutions.
Such a poll will also break with the tradition of two major political parties vying with each other during past elections. Entering the fray will be a third formidable group, the result of changes in the political landscape after the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015. This is the first time in two and half year that the SLFP and the UNP are parting ways for a poll which is significant. It will also be the first time that the coalition partners are seeking public approval for their two and half year Yahapalanaya or good governance rule.
The SLFP will field candidates under the umbrella of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). The UNP has revived its grouping under the United National Front (UNF). Emerging as the third force is the group led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Though he is the de-facto head of the Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP), talks are under way to form an alliance under a new name. Also in the fray is the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Though it does not have a reach countrywide, it has its voter base in many districts. The North is a different political scene with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) dominating the area even though Provincial Council elections are not due there just yet. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) has a foothold in the East, where PC elections are due.
For all these parties and even the Elections Commission, the focus this week has remained the Supreme Court determination on the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution. A three judge bench – Chief Justice Priyasath Dep, Justice Anil Gooneratne and Justice Vijith Malalgoda – which examined the draft amendments has already delivered its determination under sealed cover to the Speaker with a copy to the President. The SC heard some 23 petitions from political parties, civil society organisations and NGOs challenging the 20A.
The Court’s determination -- believed to be by majority 2-1 vote -- was dispatched to the Speaker and the President on Thursday hours before Chief Justice Dep left for South Korea and then Japan to participate in the Chief Justices conference.
In essence, the 20A seeks to hold elections for all PCs on the same date. A transitional provision empowers Parliament to dissolve all PCs on the specified date. Such a date is not to be later than the expiration of the term of last constituted PC. This is if the term of the PC concludes prior to the said specified date, the term of such PC to be extended beyond that date until the specified date. In the event of any Provincial Council being dissolved, the powers of such Council are to be exercised by Parliament.
The SC determination will be made known to Parliament by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya on Tuesday (September 19) when he returns from an official visit to the House of Commons in Britain earlier this week and attending commemoration events connected with the 153rd birth anniversary of Anagarika Dharmapala in Buddha Gaya today. In this backdrop, political parties have been discussing possible scenarios based on what the SC may rule. One such possibility being discussed is a scenario where if the Court has declared that besides a two thirds vote to pass 20A, a referendum of the people is also required to extend the term of the PCs.
Petitioners have argued before the SC that an amendment to Article 154 E of the Constitution, the five-year term of the PC which expires prior to the specified date being extended, would be without a mandate of the people in a province. They argued that the mandate given by the electors was for a term of five years for a PC and Parliament being allowed to extend its term of office was against such a mandate. They also pointed out that the Constitution at present has no provision for the extension of a term of a PC and only the Governor had the power to dissolve it prior to the expiration of the five-year term.
Some petitioners alleged that the 20A is purposely coupled with political necessities, and is designed to safeguard the interests of the Government and repugnant to constitutional principles. They sought an SC directive that 20A does not become law unless passed by a two thirds majority and approved by the people at a referendum. Another scenario that is being looked at is the possibility of the SC determining that only a two thirds vote is necessary, and not a referendum. However, the President is now aware of the determination and would have passed the information to his Government partners before he emplanes for New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly sessions (UNGA).
Why is the SC determination so important? It is on that ruling, that the Election Commission will discern which election would be held first, the three pending Provincial Councils – Sabaragamuwa, North Central and East or the Local Government polls. Should there be the necessity for a referendum, a Government source opined that they were likely to drop the idea of moving forward with a 20A. This is because the Government would then become helpless when it comes to end of terms and pending polls to the three PCs – Sabaragamuwa (September 26), Eastern (September 30) and North Central (October 1). The conduct of a referendum, a time consuming process, will not help put off these polls since a law to do so would not be in place. Thus, it would be impossible to apply the 20A to these PCs even if such an amendment is adopted.
In such an event, the PC polls are most likely to come first. Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya has already made clear that he would await a communication from Parliament only till October 2. If there was no such intimation, he would issue a Gazette notification calling for nomination for elections to the three PCs. An official source said elections could be planned for December 9. Earlier, plans have been afoot to hold nominations for local bodies from around November 7 to 14 and conduct an election around January 8 next year. However, the situation may change in the light of the new developments.
Sirisena’s tough stand
Ahead of the polls, the leader of the SLFP’s Central Committee has endorsed President Maithripala Sirisena’s move to field candidates on the UPFA ticket. The bulath kole (Betel leaf) is their symbol. Sirisena has chosen to take a tough line against party parliamentarians whom he believes are trying to “destabilise” the SLFP by consorting with the rival faction. In a move that gave a strong signal to others, he sacked Deputy Minister Arundika Fernando from his post as Deputy Minister of Tourism and Christian Affairs. Fernando visited Sirisena at his Paget Road residence to offer an explanation. While he was there, the President asked Fernando to accompany him to an event in Orugodawatte, fuelling speculation that he had relented and apologised. A minister, Chandima Weerakkody in fact publicly stated they would see Fernando back in a separate ministry.
However, Fernando told Mahinda Rajapaksa that he had not apologised and later told a news conference he would not go back to the Government which he said was on the verge of collapse. He had earlier been questioned by the police on his meeting with a fugitive relative of Rajapaksa, former Ambassador to Russia Udayanga Weeratunga in Japan recently. The
Friday was World Democracy Day and Elections Commission officials are seen carrying placard