The five-year tenure of the North Central, Sabaragamuwa and the Eastern Provincial Councils expire circa September-October 2017. This has prodded the Opposition in Parliament to intensify its collective demand that the government holds elections to these councils without any further delay, so as to uphold the people’s constitutionally enshrined franchise.
Minister of Local Government and Provincial Council Affairs Faiszer Musthapha told Ceylon Today that Parliament is yet to decide on a date to hold the elections. “The government is trying to bring in reforms to the Constitution to facilitate the holding of all PC elections on one day,” he explained.
Musthapha rubbished the slew of vitriolic allegations slung at the government by the Opposition, hitting back with the comment that the Opposition felt it would look impressive in the eyes of the public and thereby mask its insignificance.
The minister rubbed it in with the snide remark that “they need a spark to ignite.”
?: Will the government hold elections this year since the tenures of three PCs will end in between September and October?
A: The government has resolved to hold elections to all PCs on one day and that is expected to be facilitated through appropriate Constitutional reforms. A specific date on which the elections are to be held will be determined by Parliament. The proposal has already been tabled before the Cabinet for consideration. It will be acted upon after Parliament ratifies it with a two-thirds majority vote.
?: When exactly can we expect the elections to be held?
A: The tenures of PCs such as North Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern Provinces will end this year. In the case of some other PCs, their tenure will end in 2019. The government has decided to hold elections to all PCs on one day and Parliament will decide on a specific day to hold elections. All the Provincial Councils will function until that day.
?: For some PCs the terms end in 2019 and the government is going to hold elections to all the PCs on one day. Doesn’t that imply the PC elections will be held in 2019?
A: Although I am the Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, I cannot decide when the elections are to be held. It should be decided by Parliament.
?: What does the government hope to achieve by delaying PC elections that are due this year and instead hold them on one day sometime in the future depending on constitutional reforms?
A: The previous regime held elections on a staggered basis. The government wants to put an end to that ineffectual practice which is the objective of holding all PC elections on one day.
In fact, the masses want all these elections to be held on one specific day because this will also eliminate wasteful and excessive expenditure on staggered elections.
?: The franchise is a universal right and especially enshrined in the Constitution. Isn’t the government in effect depriving the voters of their right by delaying elections?
A: Although the franchise is positively their right, abusing power in elections and holding elections whenever the government chooses to do that are not necessarily measures which negate that right. I believe that the public want the elections to be held on one day.
?: Is the government going to implement the 20th Amendment ?
A: The 20th Amendment needs to be enacted first for it to be implemented.
?: The opposition and other interested groups claim that once the 20th Amendment to the Constitution is implemented, it vestsin Parliament the power to decide on the date for PC elections and that in itself will cause a further delay in holding elections on time. Any comments?
A: PCs were formed by Parliament and precisely there is no question of Parliament having power over PCs. I deny the claim of the Opposition that the delay is caused owing to the delay in implementation of the 20th Amendment.
The Opposition unleashes its usual vitriolic nonsense against the government to make its trifling presence felt in the public space and so they go on trying to deceive the masses with arguments that the holding of elections on one day is aimed at delaying them more.
Had Basil Rajapaksa properly implemented the delimitation of electoral districts, there was no need for the government to delay elections. I had to appear before the Court of Appeal as they had failed to make the required amendments to an Act that was legislated in 2012. Moreover, several technical amendments too had to be included and that caused the delay.
?: The Joint Opposition censures the government alleging that it is averse to holding elections out of fear of losing?
A: We united to topple the Rajapaksa regime and heralded a new era of democracy with the appointment of Maithripala Sirisena as the President. We were able to secure victory at such a challenging election and we emerged victorious at the subsequent general elections. Isn’t it ludicrous therefore for them to claim that the government is afraid of losing out at PC elections?
?: Are the three PCs whose tenure expires in September too going to continue to function until the last PC’s tenure lapses in 2019?
A: When it is said all PC elections will be held on one day, those three are no exception. That is why the government needs to bring in reforms to the Constitution. If the 20th Amendment is not passed, then the elections to the three PC s can be held this year when their tenure ends.
?: Will the proposed reforms be approved at a referendum?
A: The government does not see any requirement for holding a referendum. We believe that the Bill can be passed without a referendum.
?: When can we expect elections to Local Government institutions?
A: The Commissioner of Elections has stated that if the required amendments are made prior to 15 September, elections can be held this year. We are at present working towards that target.
?: Will there be an increase in female representation in the PC elections?
A: The government aims to bolster female representation at Provincial Council level. It has already been gazetted to increase 30 per cent of female representation at Provincial Councils. If Parliament passes that, 30 per cent of members of the Provincial Councils will be women.
?: Some members of the UPFA in the government have opined that the PC elections will be held this year. Why do government members hold divergent opinions?
A: They would have commented on the holding of PC elections prior to the bringing up of the proposal for Constitutional amendments. Moreover, anyone is entitled to their views.
?: A deadlock emerged at the North Central Provincial Council whose tenure expires at the end of this year when a group of JO members signed an affidavit to oust the Chief Minister. Repeated turmoil could be observed in the NCPC recently. Do you agree with the view that delaying PC elections may lead to many bitter issues emerging in PCs?
A: You are entitled to your opinion. I reiterate that PC elections will be held on one day and that is the requirement of the public.
Turmoil in PCs or bellicosity of councillors cannot impede the holding of elections on one day.
?: During the Chief Ministers’ Summit in May, they stressed that more power should be devolved to PCs to prevent them turning into white elephants. Do you agree?
A: If the CMs perceive that more authority should be devolved to PCs, the President should bring in amendments that would facilitate devolving of increased authority to PCs. One also has to consider what specific extra powers they want devolved to the provinces. We are required to implement the 13th Amendment in full to grant powers to PCs.
?: What is the present status of progress in bringing to fruition the constitutional changes that were promised by President Sirisena during his election campaign?
A: No other President in the history of this country has agreed to curtail his executive powers. President Sirisena is the only one who has been liberal in curtailing some of his executive powers. He was willing to curtail certain other powers too that are vested in the executive presidency. The Supreme Court has however held that the President needs a referendum to curtail those executive powers.
When we study the 19th Amendment we can appreciate the fact in retrospect that President Sirisena has curtailed his executive powers and has delivered on his pledges.