One more hurdle next we local council elections in
Election Commission Chairman gives extensive interview explaining why elections were delayed; wards being carved out, three national lists from each party
By Our Political Editor
State machinery has begun to grind slowly but surely for local government elections in January next year but a Provincial Council poll is shrouded by more uncertainty over new procedural and legal issues. Blueprints are ready with the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government to ensure nominations next month for polls in the third week of January next year. There are 335 local bodies – 271 Pradeshiya Sabhas, 41 Urban Councils and 23 Municipal Councils. A formal announcement will come in the form of a Gazette notification to be issued by the Minister. Blueprints are already being prepared by the Ministry and the likely poll dates are either January 20 or 27 next year.
Of course, that is after the Government clears one more hurdle. That would be the string of amendments it will move on Monday (October 9) in Parliament. These are at the second reading of The Municipal Councils (Amendment) Bill, The Urban Councils (Amendment) Bill and The Pradeshiya Sabha (Amendment) Bill. That will empower the Minister to publish a new gazette notification, said Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya.
“For example,” he said “the Minister has to announce that the Colombo Municipal Council should elect 66 members through First Past the Post (FPP) and 44 through Proportional Representation. It will bring down the number of members in the CMC to 110 from 113.” Yet, the earlier number of members of the CMC, which now stands dissolved, is 53. Similarly, Deshapriya said, in the Ambalangoda Urban Council it would be 12 members elected via FPP and eight through PR. Previously, he noted, the Minister had to only give the limits of a local government body and the number to be elected in a gazette notification. The numbers in each body would vary, he pointed out.
The Election Commission hopes that by the coming Tuesday Speaker Karu Jayasuriya will sign the declaration that the three amended statutes are “duly passed.” Deshapriya said, “We will have to certify that it is the Electoral Register for 2017 on which the local polls will be held. Such a certification will take place on October 12 on a ward by ward basis. There are 4,000 such wards, he said. “We need another week to ten days to issue notice. That is likely on October 20.”
Earlier, the Election Commission had planned to formally announce elections to three Provincial Councils (PCs) on October 2. This is for PCs for Sabaragamuwa (term ended on September 26), North Central (term ended on September 30) and Eastern (term ended on October 1). However, the Provincial Council Elections (Amendment) Act was taken up in Parliament a fortnight back calling a halt to all its plans and arrangements.
The new law, Deshapriya said, has changed the “entire system.” The 70: 30 ratio for elections (FPP and PR) was changed to 60:40. Female representation of 25%, which in terms of the original bill was through a separate list, was brought into the PR list. The new system incorporated in the law that was passed is 100 per cent Proportional Representation. Winners in the wards will be elected but the rest will come from the list. The Commission has to ensure that 25 percent of the female members are included. Earlier, the winners at a PC election were picked through a Preference Vote (or a manape). There are no more losers. We will distribute the seats via the PR system, Deshapriya said.
Deshapriya declared that everyone was asking why he announced that Provincial Council elections would be held in January next year. He said he made the remarks on the basis that there were only three days when a PC poll was possible in December. That too were Saturdays. They were December 2, 9 and 16. “We could not have had it on December 2 because the day before that was Milad-un-Nabi, Prophet Muhammed’s birthday. December 3 was a Poya Day. GCE (OL) examination has been scheduled to begin on December 16. Thus, we cannot use the schools as polling stations. Therefore, the only date available was December 9. Those are the reasons. The requirement was that we had to decide on PC elections 70 to 75 days from end of October. After the GCE (OL) examination it was not only the Christmas holidays. It is mandatory that Government sector accounts would have to be completed before the end of