For the first time, 3-pronged elec­tio

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

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - NEWS - By Our Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

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.

20A’s im­pli­ca­tions

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

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