By Faiszer Musthapha –
Since of late, I have come under fire from several members of the opposition parties for postponing the Local Government polls, and I believe I owe an explanation to the people of Sri Lanka.
If one were to look behind at the recent election history in Sri Lanka, one would be able to see very fascist politics at play. Politics had become an increasingly violent affair, and this enticed many local dons with vested interests to enter the political domains and avert from contesting any politician with credibility. It also dissuaded women from contesting the polls, and if they did, they were severely disadvantaged due to the fascistic politics played by some.
The nature of fascistic politics had seen innumerable reports of violence which can be observed from the reports of CaFFE, PAFFREL and other election monitoring bodies. Some have even lost their lives in the process. Elections had become such a callous affair that representatives from religious minorities began suffering at the hands of radical extremists. The Police and other security forces had become impuissant in the wake of political influence.
While many have debated on the positives and negatives of the last regime, the amending Act No. 22 of 2012 is an undeniably appreciable initiative to introduce change in the democratic process. The change sought in 2012 introduced a new system of electing people, through which members of Municipal Councils, Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas would be elected through a mixed system. By mixed system I mean a mixture of the First Past the Post system and the Proportional Representation system.
A new ward based system was also introduced where a National Delimitation Committee will be appointed and they would divide each local authority area into wards. To determine the wards, a system has been prescribed in the Act and the Committee must take into consideration the ethnic composition and ethnic ratio, the geographical area and physical features, population of local authority area and population density and the extent of economic development.
The National Committee shall also have the power to recommend the formation of multi member wards. These wards are then gazette by the President. The Gazette does not in any way indicate finality. It only means that the new ward based system is published for any person to observe and make recommendations. Thereafter, the Act specifies an appeal process where the Minister will appoint a Delimitation Appeals committee. It is upon completion of the appeal process that an Election can be held as according to the Act.
As you already probably know through various media reports, the National Delimitation Commission had taken almost three years to submit their report. This Committee is also referred to as the Jayalath Dissanayake Committee as it was headed by Jayalath Ravi Dissanayake.
The Committee was appointed on 07 December, 2012 and the Government issued the Gazette on 21 August, 2015. As according to the new system, there are 5092 Members expected to be returned from 4833 wards. Of these 4833 wards, 4583 are single member wards, 241 are multi member wards electing two members and nine are multi member wards electing three members.
There was very little suspicion of foul play until the Delimitation Appeals Committee was appointed headed by Asoka Peiris. Asoka Peiris is not aligned with any political party and is an independent appointee. In any case, to ensure that the Appeals Committee remained unbiased, I called for the main political parties to be represented in the five member committee. So the United People’s Freedom Party (UPFA) is represented by Saliya Mattew, United National Party (UNP) is represented by A. S. M. Misbah, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is represented by Upul Kumarapperuma and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is represented by Prof. P. Balasundaram Pillai.
The Appeals Committee is comprised not only of Members of different political parties, but also people from all ethnic backgrounds. This was done to ensure that the system was not manipulated to suit any person or political party. The Appeal process began in December 2015, and until now there have been complaints regarding over 2000 wards. It clearly showed that the process of delimitation was very discriminatory. The ethnic minorities had been side-lined by joining a portion of certain populations with other parts to ensure that a representative for them is not returned. The requirements of the amended Act had not been followed.
If you observe the delimitation report in the map, you would observe that some areas have extended to a national park on one side and on the other is some random person’s fence. It is absurd. It is a sinister attempt to marginalize the representation of minorities and to ensure favouritism for some. Either that, or the commission sat in their A/C rooms and drew a map without a proper public consultation process.
Now the Joint Opposition has raised complaints regarding this election. Firstly let us understand the context of the complaint. The last batch of Local Authority representatives were elected at elections held on 17 March 2011, 23 July 2011 and 08 October 2011. Their ordinary mandate will be for a period of four years, but the law provides that if Parliament decided as such, it could hold on for an additional year. Therefore, the Local Authority Elections could be held for a period of five years from the date of elections.
There have been critiques complaining of the predicament and accused the Government of purposefully delaying elections for the purpose of party politics. They claim it is because there is dissension within the SLFP ranks which need to be resolved. Even the Chairman of the Elections Commission, Mahinda Deshapriya was questioned regarding this. His response is also the same as mine.
The simple answer to the question of why the Local Authority polls are being delayed is that we cannot hold an election until the appeal process is complete. Many have asked me why this cannot be completed quickly. I ask the people to be patient. Delimitation is a very technical and time consuming process whereby the whole country is affected. If not done carefully, there will be numerous allegations hurled at me.
I have therefore asked Asoka Peiris to hasten the process, but I have also asked him to ensure that the process is not flawed. You could ask Asoka Peiris, or any other member of the Appeals Committee, if I have interfered in the process and I am confident they would all respond negatively. This is because I do not want any person complaining at a later stage that the Delimitation process was biased. This would not only tarnish my reputation, but also that of President Maithripala Sirisena who stands for good governance.
Even Mahinda Deshapriya had stated that the Local Authority polls will be held as soon as the Appeal process is complete. I concur with this, and I promise that the elections will be held as soon as the process is complete.
PAFFREL has also put forward the suggestion that the elections should be held in areas where the problems have been resolved. However, this cannot be the case either, as the law does not permit me to do so. The law states that the amendments made to the delimitation process must be published in a gazette by the Minister, after which an election can be held. Therefore, I am compelled to wait for the completion of the appeal process before holding an election.
There have been those who have asked me to hold the elections based on the old system. In particular, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka of the JVP had made some accusations asking for it to be held as according to the old system. There is no old system or new system, there is only one system of holding elections in Sri Lanka. The old system they speak of is now repealed and no more operative. Now the law requires the ward based system and the delimitation must be completed for elections to be held.
I must also enlighten all of you of this new system of conducting elections. The new ward based system is for the purpose of holding elections as according to the mixed system. It is a system which brings together the best of the First Past the Post system and the Proportional Representation system. Since I took over as Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, I also introduced a further amendment making it compulsory to have 25% female representation in the nomination lists. This promotes the female participation too in the democratic process.
The new process will be very fair and will ensure justice. The delays are for the betterment of the people, and very soon we would have a very good democratic process which will operate like well-oiled machinery. I kindly urge the people not to lose faith in good governance. We do understand that the results are a little slow, but we promise you that results will be certain.
*Faiszer Musthapha – Minister, Provincial Councils and Local Government