News

PC polls: Will 2022 be the year for elections?

  • Act quickly to hold PC elections: Ganesan
  • Govt. can move an amendment quickly: UNP

By Asiri Fernando

Opposition parties last week welcomed a move by the Government to expedite the much-delayed provincial council (PC) elections, pointing out that some communities have been denied provincial representation for several years.

The move comes as Parliament Select Committee (PSC) on electoral reforms Chair and Minister of Education Dinesh Gunawardena indicated that the Government would likely present the necessary amendments to enable the PC election process to move ahead early next year. The PSC will meet again next week and plans to expedite the process, The Sunday Morning learnt.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Minister Gunawardena said that if all parties agreed on one system of electing representatives for the PCs, the process for an election will move faster.

He opined that the committee was of the view that the mixed electoral system should be retained to elect representatives to the PCs and Parliament. However, he said the matter will have to be taken up before a full committee before recommendations can be made.

“A full committee will have to make its recommendations. But the Government, on its own, can act. The relevant minister can act on it,” he said, pointing out that drafting such a bill will be time-consuming.

“A mixed system was the basis on which this committee was established by the Government, because the mandate given to Parliament and the President is for a mixed system. That is what we have pledged for all elections,” Gunawardena said.

However, several government MPs strongly opposed the need to hold PC elections, questioning their effectiveness, and have called for the 13th Amendment of 1987 (13A) to be repealed.

“If everyone agrees on the system, this can be moved quickly. The JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) wanted a bill to be brought in early. But that is not possible,” he said, pointing out that the matter can’t be rushed in the coming months due to the need to debate the budget.

He would not comment on a timeline for repealing or amending the existing legislation, except to say that it may take place in or around January 2022.

“We can’t bring in a process that will get stuck in Parliament again. Possibly, by January, it could be the Government’s target to have a draft ready for Parliament. If it all goes through, there may be an election,” Gunawardena stated, adding that repealing the current legislation may not bring the PC election system back to the pre-2017 system.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) Leader Mano Ganesan stressed the need for the PC elections to be held as soon as possible.

“We have been saying this for some time. The PC elections need to be expedited. It needs to be held soon. It should be held under the proportionate representation system,” MP Ganesan, who is also a member of the PSC, said, adding that if the Government was serious about holding the elections soon, they could move an amendment which could be approved by the Cabinet and passed by Parliament.

He opined that Minister of Finance Basil Rajapaksa also voiced his support for a quick PC election. “We watch in good faith and hope the matter is addressed soon,” the Opposition MP stated.

Ganesan urged Minister of Public Services, Provincial Councils, and Local Government Janaka Bandara Tennakoon to act swiftly on the issue and seek cabinet approval for an amendment, which could then be voted on in Parliament.

The PC elections have been in limbo since 2018, when the then Government failed to accept a delimitation report, triggering a freeze on the electoral process. Moves to re-designate a ward system for better representation led to confusion, and with the added failure to approve a delimitation report that was prepared for a new method of elections, the PCs ran out their terms of office with no means of electing a new set of representatives. The re-designation of electoral wards, particularly in the North, East, and some parts of the Central Province, was disputed or rejected by some communities.

When reached, former parliamentarian and United National Party (UNP) General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara echoed MP Ganesan’s sentiments and added that female representation at the PC level needed to be improved. “The public will benefit from an early PC (election) and the Government can do it with an amendment, as they have a majority in Parliament,” Bandara said.

Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) parliamentarian Sivagnanam Shritharan, speaking to The Sunday Morning, said that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was ready to contest the PC elections. He pointed out that many grievances of communities in the North and the East that could have been addressed through PCs remain unanswered due to the delays in holding the election.

“PC elections must be held as soon as possible. Our people expect the PCs; they see it as a part of our democracy,” MP Shritharan said.

Explaining the stance of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, JVP Leader MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake told The Sunday Morning that the party was ready to support a move by the Government to hold the PC elections based on the previous proportional representation system.

When contacted, Opposition parliamentarian Lakshman Kiriella said that the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) too is willing to support such a move by the Government, adding that the failure to hold elections regularly was a sign of an unhealthy democracy.

“We must give the public the right to have their voices heard and elect representatives of their choice to different levels of public office,” MP Kiriella stressed.

Last week, amidst a flurry of high-profile diplomatic visits by Indian diplomats and officials, India re-initiated their stance on the need to fully implement the 13A. In that backdrop, Minister of Foreign Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris stated that Sri Lanka wished to hold PC elections by March 2022, stressing that the Government was not influenced by external forces on holding the elections.