ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s decision to indefinitely postpone Provincial Council (PC) elections controversially was made due to sustained pressure from Sinhala Nationalist organisations who argue that the government had pledged to do away with the PCs during the election campaign.
On Tuesday, Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera told reporters the leaders of the political parties in the governing Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Peramuna had decided to put off the polls due to the pandemic and also on “a request made by the Maha Sangha (Buddhists Monks).”
The party leaders’ meeting took place a day after the Collective of Nationalist Organisations (ජාතික සංවිධාන එකමුතුව) met key members of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters in Kandy on Sunday.
A representative of the Collective, Dr Malwane Chandrarathana Thero told reporters that the PCs which were “forced on us by India as a solution for the separatist movements” had not succeeded in that endeavour.
He added that the government has promised to formulate a new constitution within a year of coming to power which would offer an alternative means of devolving power.
“We are waiting to see what the government’s policy on this issue is,” the Thero who heads the Sinhala Department at the Kelaniya University said.
The leading prelates at the two influential sects agreed with the Collective.
The Anunayake of the Malwatte Chapter Dimbulkumbure Wimaladhamma Thero said that this was a time to deal with the health crisis and not waste public funds on elections. “The people are in need of relief,” he said.
The Registrar of the Asgiriya Chapter Dr Medagama Dhammananda agreed, saying that all efforts should be made to repair the damage done to society by the pandemic.
Both prelates signed off on the letter brought by the collective carrying their demands which was then handed over to the government.
However, the government of India which considers the PCs a lasting development that it gave the minority Tamils as part of efforts to stop the separatist war has constantly urged successive Sri Lankan governments not to abolish the devolved Councils.
State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara warned the country that it should not abolish the PCs without “consulting India. Otherwise we may face problems internationally,” he told reporters today, December 30.
“I agree that there should be changes in the way we hold the elections, but we must hold them,” the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) the second biggest party in the alliance said.
This development comes a day after the National Peace Council announced that in a series of consultations it did on Constitutional Reform, Civil Society representatives had agreed that the PC system be “enhanced and strengthened.”
The PC elections cannot anyway be held in a hurry as an essential delimitation Bill awaits Parliamentary ratification. Currently, there is no law available to hold the elections.
The original law enacted as part of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 was formulated in 1988 but due to issues that arose from it, the last government prosed changes.
These changes were included in a new PC Elections Bill No 17 of 2017 but Parliamentarians on both sides disagreed with the provisions.
Today, Wednesday 30, State Minister Susil Premjayantha told reporters that the elections were held up by the pandemic as well as legal issues.
He told a press conference at the SLPP headquarters in Battaramulla that as the last government had brought in amendments to the PC laws through a two-thirds majority in Parliament any changes to the law also needed that number of votes.
At the time a committee presided over by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed to look into the issues but no solution was reached until his government was booted out earlier this year.
Although the then National Elections Commission continued to urge the government to hold the PC elections the administration waffled and failed to go to the polls.
At the time the SLPP which was in opposition said that the government was avoiding the poll as it knew it would lose.
Elections to the Northern and Eastern PCs were held during the last Rajapaksa administration for the first time since they were established. (Colombo, December 30, 2020)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana