By Mahinda Rajapaksa –
Nominations have now been accepted for the local government elections which had been delayed by nearly three years due to the government’s fear of the voting public. Even though a local government election is not an election at which political power changes hands, this election is of special significance because this is the first time the people will have an opportunity to use the ballot to demonstrate their opposition to the present government. The only election held previously under the so called yahapalana government was the parliamentary election of August 2015. The president ensured the victory of the UNP at that election through stratagems such as issuing public statements to destablise the UPFA election campaign and by sacking the general secretaries of the SLFP and the UPFA on the eve of the poll.Thereby the message that was conveyed to the whole country was that since it is the President who calls the shots, the UNP will ultimately end up triumphant even if they lose the election.
That was the manner in which the present leader of the SLFP ensured the victory of the UNP at the last parliamentary election.This is why the Joint Opposition is contesting this local government election under a different symbol and a different political alliance. The objective of the Joint Opposition is to provide all those opposed to this government with a political alternative. Even though the SLFP group in the government makes various criticisms against the UNP, they serve in the same Cabinet and cooperate in all matters necessary to keep the coalition government going. SLFP ministers vote every year for the UNP’s Budget. The whole country saw the manner in which the SLFP group in the government voted in favour of the 2018 Budget just days ago. We see the two sides cooperating with one another in selling off our national assets as well. When the UNP minister of ports and shipping objected to the Hambantota port deal, the President removed him and appointed an SLFP minister to that position to push through the unfavourable deal entered into by the UNP. When the Hambantota Port was handed over to the foreign company recently, the whole country saw how the SLFP ministers present applauded as the UNP Prime Minister hugged the cheque for 292 million USD.
We see the UNP and the SLFP group in the government cooperating with one another in the preparations being made to introduce a new constitution which will divide this country into nine semi-independent federal states. The only provision that the SLFP group in the government opposes in the proposed new constitution is the abolition of the executive presidency. We have not seen the SLFP opposing the proposed ETCA trade agreement with India either. The whole country witnessed the manner in which the SLFP group and the UNP worked together to avoid holding the local government and provincial council elections. Even though many members of our armed forces who led or fought in the war against terrorism have been jailed on flimsy pretexts, the SLFP President has done nothing to put a halt to this persecution.
Even though the JVP masquerades as an opposition party, they are an integral part of the yahapalana collective. The JVP has fully cooperated in every anti-democratic measure taken by this government. The JVP leader was a member of the Committee of ministers, politicians and NGO activists formed to oversee the work of the FCID. While criticising the government lightly for appearances sake, their most vehement criticism is aimed at the Joint Opposition. It was the JVP that provided the two thirds majority that the government needed to change the electoral system and avoid holding the provincial council elections which should have been held by now. On an earlier occasion, the JVP helped the government to pass amendments to the local government elections law in contravention of the Constitution and the Standing Orders of Parliament. Back in 2005, the JVP which was then under the leadership of Comrade Somawansa Amarasinghe threw its weight behind me in order to prevent Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP from coming into power. Today, under a different leadership, the JVP has become a cat’s paw of the UNP. Therefore, the voting public should be mindful of the fact that the only real opposition to this government is the Joint Opposition.
The local government election that is to be held in February 2018 will be the first of a series of elections running up to the next presidential election. According to the change effected by the 19th Amendment to Article 30(2) of the Constitution, the term of office of the President was reduced to five years. By the provisions of Section 49(1)(b) of the19th Amendment, that change has been made specifically applicable to the incumbent President as well. Hence the term of office of the incumbent President ends on 9 January 2020. According to Article 31(3) of our Constitution, a Presidential election has to be held not more than two months and not less than one month before the incumbent President’s term of office expires. Hence the next presidential election will have to be held between 9 November and 9 December 2019.
When the mandatory periods between the declaration of the election, calling for nominations and the subsequent period up to the poll laid down in the Presidential Elections Act of 1981 are taken into account, it is clear that the next presidential election process will have to begin by October 2019. Hence there will only be around 18 months between the local government elections of February 2018 and the beginning of the next Presidential elections process in 2019. The government will have to hold the postponed provincial council elections as well before the next presidential elections. The Sabaragamuwa, North Central and Eastern provincial council elections have already been dissolved and the Northern and Wayamaba Provincial Councils will also stand dissolved next year. Since this government was elected to power on the majorities received from the north and east, they will not be able to face the next presidential elections without functioning provincial councils in those two provinces.
Therefore, we can expect the local government election in February 2018 to be the first in a series of elections with the provincial council elections being held next, to be followed some months later, by the presidential election. The people are only too well aware of the fate that has befallen this country after the UNP-SLFP coalition government took office. In a situation where this coalition government has demonstrated in unmistakable terms that they are incapable of running the country, every voter should ask themselves whether there is any sense in the same people asking for a mandate to run the local government authorities as well. I earnestly request the voting public to set aside all other considerations and to cast their vote at the forthcoming local government elections solely on the basis of being either in favour of, or opposed to, the present UNP-SLFP coalition government.
*Mahinda Rajapaksa – Kurunegala district MP and Former President of Sri Lanka