22 May, 2024


Let’s Not Insult Women: Devolving Powers To Women Is No Burden

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

There have been recent calls to not implement fully the legal requirement of having at least 25% women in each local government authority. The Daily News (15 Feb.) reports that “The Election Commission is to ask that the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act No 22 of 2012 to be amended to allow councils to be established even without the mandatory 25 percent quota under special circumstances.” This is incorrect for two reasons. First, the 25% quota is of very recent origin and is from Act No. 16 of 2017. And second, no such decision was ever taken at any meeting of the commission.

The Island (16 Feb.) has a statement by women’s groups that speaks of “moves to change the 25% quota for women” and of “recognizing the exceptions in the quota.” The Financial Times (15 Feb.) says “Fresh amendments for the Local Authorities Elections Act would be essential to allow local governing bodies to establish councils, even without the mandatory 25% quota for women, under unique conditions.”

Colombo’s Mayor-elect, Rosy Senanayake, refers in the Daily Mirror (16 Feb.) to the implementation of the 25% quota for women in local government elections being uncertain, and urges that steps be taken to implement the 25% Quota for Women in LG polls immediately.”

Speaking for myself as a member of the Election Commission (and not for the Commission) I say that the women are right in feeling their long-fought-for gains are threatened.  Indeed, I do not see any lacunae in the law that need urgent attention. When the quota is the law, we cannot have exceptions. In my view, backdating changes to the law to affect the elections that have already been conducted, is improper.

The problem that many see is from the fact that the Local Authorities Election Act states

27F. (1) Notwithstanding any provision to the contrary in this Ordinance, not less than twenty five per centum of the total number of members in each local authority shall be women members

That is, if we do not have 25% women as members in a local authority, that authority has no standing. This would not be an issue (and in my view is not a serious issue) if not for the exemptions provided

65AA. (1) Where the number of members elected from any recognized political party or independent group for a Local Authority results in an overhang and thereby exceeds the number ascertained to be elected and returned as members under [subsection] (3) of section 65(3), and such number of members so elected [does] not include any women members, then the provisions of subsections (3) and (4) of this section shall not apply to such recognized political party or independent group.

(2) Where any recognized political party or independent group has received less than twenty per centum of the total number of votes polled in a local authority area, and [note well the word and] has less than three members elected or returned, then the provisions of subsections (3) and (4) of this section [which are on the method of apportionment of members]  shall not apply to such recognized political party or independent group.

First note that the exemption applies only to parties fulfilling both conditions – receiving less than 20% of the vote and getting fewer than 3 representatives. The purpose is to give such small parties wide choice in putting forward their best nominees for the few seats they have.

These conditions are often misstated as exemptions for meeting either condition as in one of the news articles cited above. There is also the wrong idea that ward candidates contest and that those on the PR list do not contest.  In fact, they all contest. In English, a voter elected is returned; but some official documents in Sri Lanka use elected and returned as being of different meanings. We voted only for the party of our choice and that led to the election of both ward candidates and PR candidates. To ensure their getting in, the PR list candidates also had to campaign – so they too are elected. Therefore it is incorrect to suggest that choosing a person from the PR list is choosing a person who did not contest.

What then is the problem today? As seen by many, it is twofold. First, it is that the methodology specified by Parliament is unlike what one would expect – that 60% of seats are filled from the wards and 40% from PR. To explain, let me take the Ambalangoda UC results that all three Commission Members sat down together to check the method employed by our staff:


Votes Obtained

% Vote

No. Elected for Wards

No. Eligible by PR

Actual Eligibility from PR

Total Members

Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna







United National Party







United People’s Freedom Alliance







People’s Liberation Front







United National Freedom Front







After the eligible PR eligibility list is computed by the method prescribed, the numbers earned from the wards are taken off. Thus the Podujan Peramuna with 10 from wards and 9 eligible for PR gets no PR seat (that extra seat is what is called an overhang). So it gets no PR seat and since all 10 of its representatives are directly elected, any contribution from it to the women’s quota can be only if any of the 10 elected /returned persons happens to be a woman.

The second alleged problem is that small groupings in a chamber (with less than 20% of the vote and fewer than 3 members) are exempted from having to nominate women. Thus in Amabalangoda, the Podujana Peramuna cannot contribute to the women’s quota, the PLF cannot be asked to contribute because they have only 2 members and 7.5% of the vote, and the UNFF has no seat. So the women’s quota (with the exception of any women elected to wards from the Podujana Peramuna) will have to come only from the UNP and UPFA. In Batticaloa, the ITAK with the most seats by far had all its ward winners men with no PR member.

This might be unfair only insofar as the parties that need to contribute have less choice than the smaller groupings in choosing whom to nominate from among the pool of men and women on their lists. To call that a burden or unfair is a stretch. It is an insult to women – recall strong and determined women who ruled us effectively (if not always justly) such as from Queen Victoria to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. It would never be a burden if the parties had chosen their best women and not their relatives.

Is it really a burden or unfair to name a woman instead of a man? It shows that we men, especially we old men, do not want to let go. We imagine (because it fits our prejudices) that the 25% quota is a set quota. It really is a minimum standard to exceed which is no crime. We think it is a burden. That by itself shows we really need our women to be liberated from such insulting caricatures.

There is talk of having to amend the laws. No indeed. The Local Authorities Elections Act as recently amended reads

27F. (2) The [Elections Commission] shall by notice published in the gazette, specify the number of women candidates to be nominated in respect of each local authority.”

Thus the Commission has the authority to force the groupings that can, to nominate more than 25% women.

The so-called problem is said to stem from the concept of the opposite of an overhang defined in the ordinance as

“overhang” means the number of candidates elected for a local authority from any recognized political party or independent group in excess of the number of such recognized political party or independent group is entitled to have elected in terms of subsection (3) of section 65B of this Ordinance;”

A party has to nominate a woman after the declaration of results only when it wins fewer ward seats than by PR. So why complain even if they all have to be women, especially when they are the party’s own nominees? Besides, even here, the above referenced Act gives the Commission the authority to decide on its own:

“65B (4) Upon ascertaining the number of candidates entitled to be elected and returned as members of that local authority by each recognized political party or independent group, as the case may be, in terms of subsection (3) [which states how to arrive at the figures], if it is found that the number of members elected from such recognized political party or independent group for that local authority—

(a) exceeds the number ascertained to be elected and returned as members under subsection (3), then such overhang shall be determined by the [Elections Commission].

Let’s please not see problems where there is none. Let’s not delay the inauguration of these long awaited local authorities by waiting for parliament to tinker where no tinkering is required. Any legal change would be required only if even with all free PR candidates nominated by the parties able to do so are women, the 25% quota is not met.

Women have a right to be representatives knowing better than us men the special needs faced by women, children, and the elderly; and knowing and possessing the skills to address as well as us men the general needs of all of us in society. They worked hard for this miserly 25% quota. Let’s not haggle over having to cede just a little more to be in mandatory compliance with the law.

The world over, devolution of powers is seen as the way to include everyone in decisions that concern them. Local authority decisions must be taken at local level and further delays in the inauguration of these bodies cannot be brooked. We men have been deciding all these years with just 1.8% women in our midst in local government. It is time to devolve our powers and let women too have a say.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

    RE: Let’s Not Insult Women: Devolving Powers To Women Is No Burden
    (299 Words)

    “The world over, devolution of powers is seen as the way to include everyone in decisions that concern them. ..We men have been deciding all these years with just 1.8% women in our midst in local government. It is time to devolve our powers and let women too have a say.”

    Q. What did Buddha say to Ananda about women? Avoid them.

    Women comprise more than 50% of the electorate, but most of them are slaves or chattel for the men. The data supports that.

    Muslim Female LG Candidates Face Brunt Of Communal Clerical Misogyny


    The concept of possessing the autonomy to articulate one’s existence as being one that all human beings including females are born with seems alien to a group of Muslims, specifically three Lankan citizens claiming to be religious leaders representing the Islamic clergy.

    They have behaved that way throughout history, to maintain and keep their hegemony, and used Islam to that effect.

    Let’s see what the foremost Islamic Scholar, Jurist and Philosopher had to say about women and their participation in society.

    Some Considerations on Averroes’ Views Regarding Women and Their Role in Society
    Published: 06 December 2008


    Modern research shows Averroes (Ibn Rushd, d. 1198) as a philosopher in his own right. The originality of his veiws on women would place him in that category. This study examines Averroes’ view on women against the background of his society and faith. Averroes expounds Plato’s model of the ideal society, and women’s role in it, and his book on Islamic law, the Bidāyat al-mujtahid (A Jurist’s Primer) In both cases Averroes, while following the tradition, philosophical or religious, displays an undeniable preference for women’s emancipation.

  • 1

    I am not sure how 25% female representation can be assured with the existing set of rules.
    A different method had to be designed to ensure that the desired minimum is achieved.
    A system that reserves 25% of the seats for women is feasible. (If in the process they secure more than 50%, that will not be a bad thing.)
    I can think of other options, but this is not the space to discuss them.
    The political parties and the community as a whole are still ill prepared for adequate female representation.
    It is time to get back to the basics of the electoral mechanism as it exists and explore how it can be used to achieve the objective.
    If that is not feasible, let us explore feasible options which will ensure that political minorities too are better represented.

    • 1

      Dear Prof. Hoole,

      Thanks for clear statements of this sort:

      “Women have a right to be representatives knowing better than us men the special needs faced by women, children, and the elderly.”

      And isn’t it wonderful to have SJ actually supporting you? This is a complicated business all right. I won’t try to understand it – not enough brains for the purpose! In Ambalangoda, why not get the SLPP to drop one or two of those elected from the Wards (perhaps those with the least convincing victories), and substitute a woman or two from the PR list?

      Doesn’t seem unfair.

      A big thank you, Prof Jeevan Hoole, Mr Nalin Abeysekera, and Mr Mahinda Deshapriya for collectively ensuring a peaceful election. the only consolation for us from the results of these elections!

  • 1

    A good essay, fair for women; no excuse for inauguration delay.

    My thinking is, I am not sure how much it should be the introductory percentage, but if is 25% let be so it. Because there are two type of candidates are there, like PR and FPTP there has to be more than two types of quotas be set. If a party has exceeded in candidates’ selection more 25% substantially, say 35% women were placed in the election, and it exceeded FPTP, and then in can be allowed to keep all male LGMs. If its 25% or below candidates, then it has to be forced to take 25% PR quota, so party has sack FPTP candidates permanently until next election. Parties get less than 10% seats or less than two seats can be exempt from quota. But it is really in destructive the the way PR and FPTP has been combined. That has to be amended.

    Parties appointing members’’ relatives women are not a question comes in women quota system. There all over in Lankawe if the father in politics all sons are in politics; if a brother in politics then all the males siblings are in politics. The habit in Lankawe is Royal dynasty creating. That has to be addressed in a different way. It has to be considered like a milder conflict of interest in government employment. Because they all are adults and they want they can be allowed to serve the country, but the total cash benefit to the country reduced. This will deters families using it as source of regular employment opportunities or creating family enterprise with in the government bodies.

  • 0

    There has to be a law if a blood relative of politicians enters into politics in the same territory, though the same party organization, then the higher paid person’s remuneration has to be reduced to 50%. Say if father and son are in UNP and Father in Central and Son in Local, father has to forgo the 50% of his pay to the government to have his son’s nomination recognized by the Local.

    There was case in Batticaloa, the two brothers in TNA arranged if one has to take up the Predesa Saba Chairman post, the other one has to resign his membership. They honored that deal in this election.

  • 0

    Sinhala man, SJ, Prof. Hoole speaking for the Election Commission or not,

    You are all very naive indeed.

    25% women will not equate to 25% voice in Sri Lanka or anywhere else on this planet.

    Further, all the training for the elections was on empowering women and the new laws, hardly on changing men’s will. IFES did a couple with little success.

    Amarasiri why speak only of the Muslims and Buddhists? -the Jaffna Tamil men, even the peons, the born again pastors and even most women will not tarry to listen to a woman however qualified she is. Her speaking in the midst of men is abruptly stopped by continuing on if the men around are kind or bringing in random topics as if she is speaking irrelevant things or as if her speaking out on important issues is an embarrassment or is utterly improper or very audacious. It is as if she has not or worse should not have spoken at all.

    When it is men who codify our religion or write the law, the product is very dead on delivery for women- like the Brahmins writing laws for the sudras and calling them the breathed Vedas.

    For women friendly laws to come women should be cloning themselves. The day does not appear to be too far.

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