By Somapala Gunadheera –
According to the amended Local Government Elections Ordinance, which was passed unanimously in Parliament along with the Local Authorities (Special Provisions) Bill recently, a National Delimitation Committee consisting of five persons has been appointed by the Minister of Local Government, to delimit the electoral wards involved. The Minister derives that power from Section 3A. (1) of the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) 1 Act, No. 22 of 2012 which reads, “The Minister shall, upon the coming into operation of this section, by Order published in the Gazette, establish a National Delimitation Committee which shall consist of five persons to be appointed by the Minister”.
Under Section 3C of the said Act, upon receipt of the report of a National Delimitation Committee, the Minister shall by a Notification published in the Gazette, publish the number of wards the boundaries, names and the numbers assigned to each ward so created on the recommendation made by the National Delimitation Committee in respect of each respective local authority. These provisions leave the power to appoint the Delimitation Committee and to implement its recommendations entirely in the Minister’s hand. Any delay in finalizing the process, naturally leaves room for his political opponents to blame the Minister for manipulating the election process to the advantage of his Party. The United Opposition is capitalizing on the delay to hold local authorities elections by alleging that the Government is deliberately postponing elections for fear of losing them, taking cover under the delimitation process.
In India, delimitation is a function of an independent commission. Section 3 of the India Delimitation Act 2002 states, “As soon as may be after the commencement of this Act, the Central Government shall constitute a Commission to be called the Delimitation Commission which shall consist of three members as follows: – (a) one member, who shall be a person who is or has been a judge of the Supreme Court, to be appointed by the Central Government who shall be the Chairperson of the Commission; (b) the Chief Election Commissioner or an Election Commissioner nominated by the Chief Election Commissioner. ex officio”. The Constitution of Pakistan charges the Election Commission with Delimitation of constituencies.
Article 104B. (1) of our Constitution grants to our Election Commission the power to “exercise, perform and discharge all such powers, duties and functions conferred or imposed on or assigned to – (a) the Commission ; or (b) the Commissioner-General of Elections, by the Constitution” and the election of members of Local Authorities. But our Commission has no power of delimitation. It has to await the finalization of the report of the National Delimitation Committee appointed by the Minister. If delimitation was entrusted to our Election Commission or to another independent Commission as in Pakistan and India, the Government would not be facing charges of fixing elections, although it may be genuinely held up by real problems faced by the delimitation committee. It is a pity that our Government has been blind to democratic practices followed by our two big brothers in this regard.
In a letter published in the Island recently, the Minister of Local Government has observed: “Local Governance must not be a state administrative mechanism but a populist government where it confirms the democratic rights of the public and implements the needs of the public. Accordingly, the new election system which was unanimously resolved in the parliament, confirming the current needs, will be the foundation to make a populist Local Authority system”. In the background of the ongoing dispute about postponing local government elections, one wonders whether ‘the new election system’, ‘unanimously resolved in the Parliament’, has created a bedrock of Democracy on which the ‘populism’ of local government could thrive.