Sri Lanka wishes to hold the country’s long-delayed provincial council elections before March 2022 but it will not be due to pressure from India or any other foreign government, foreign minister G L Peiris said.
Speaking to reporters on Monday (11), Peiris denied that India’s foreign secretary Harsh V Shringla who was on an official visit to Sri Lanka last week had put pressure on the government to hold early elections.
“That’s a complete myth. The Indian foreign secretary didn’t come here and put pressure on the government over elections in our country. His visit was in relation to other matters. The Indian foreign secretary doesn’t have to arrive in Sri Lanka for us to take that decision,” said Peiris.
The Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka said in a statement on October 06 that, at a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the foreign secretary had reiterated India’s position on complete implementation of the provisions in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, including devolution of powers and the holding of Provincial Council elections at the earliest.
“India didn’t say they were putting pressure. The word ‘pressure’ is wholly incorrect. This was always India’s position on the 13th amendment and the provincial polls. It’s nothing new,” Minister Peiris said responding to reporters’ questions.
“There are no members in a single provincial council for two years running. This is a disservice to democracy and to the people. In no part of the country can a citizen or voter meet an elected representative to take their issues to. Our government has decided to hold elections,” he said.
Provincial polls in Sri Lanka were postponed in 2017 when the then government proposed a hybrid system of first-past-the-post and proportional representation. According to Minister Peiris, the Attorney General has made it clear that polls to the nine provinces cannot be held until the 2017 Act is amended and passed in parliament.
All nine provinces in Sri Lanka are currently being run by their respective governors following the end of their five-year terms at various points. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has also called for the early conduct of polls, a sentiment echoed by India. The provincial councils are a legacy of the Indo-Lanka accord signed in 1987 and was proposed as a solution to the ethnic conflict.
“We wish to go for elections once our programme is reformed as needed, based on the people’s expectations,” said Peiris.
“The Attorney General has advised that provincial polls cannot be held without passing a new bill in parliament. What we need is to hold the elections before March 2022. It’s not due to anyone’s influence; it is not under pressure from a foreign government. That’s a total untruth,” he said.
In March this year, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that the PC polls must be held soon either under the previous Provincial Councils Elections Act or under the proposed new (Amendment) Act with its “complications” removed.
The president’s office quoted him as saying the Amended Provincial Councils Act which included a new delimitation of the constituencies, a quota for women candidates and other changes “had been defeated by the former government which proposed it.”
Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has also determined that the provincial polls can be held under either the old or new system but upon the amending legislation being passed.