Referendum looms as Sri Lanka attempts to postpone PC polls

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s independent Election Commission may be compelled to hold three provincial council elections this this year in the likely event of the Supreme Court this week insisting on a referendum on the proposed 20th amendment to the constitution.

Legal sources said the three-judge bench headed by chief justice Priyasath Dep was expected to give its ruling this week to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya on the constitutionality of the proposed 20th amendment. The others on the bench are justices Anil Goonaratne and Vijith Malalgoda.

The controversial 20th amendment seeks to hold all local elections on a single day, but it also means having to put off elections to councils whose term expire before several others whose term can continue till 2019. The nine provincial councils had been elected at different times with Uva and the South being the latest to be elected in 2014 for a five year term.

The government has proposed that the councils whose term ends by next month should be governed by parliament, a move resisted by several provincial councils, including the Northern province which argues that it undermines the concept of devolution of power to the provinces.

"The 20th amendment directly affects the franchise of the people because it seeks to put off elections even though the intention to have all polls on the same day is a cost-saving exercise for the country," a legal source said

He said it was difficult to imagine the court allowing the amendment to go through only with a two-thirds majority in parliament. It is likely to call for a referendum which could effectively scuttle government plans.

Government sources said the administration was unlikely to go for a referendum and instead may get ready to face elections to the North-Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern Councils by December.

The government had put off local government elections by nearly two years as it moved to amend the local government election act. The official reason for the delay is to allow a new hybrid voting system that incorporates elements from the first-past-the-post system and proportional representation.

However, the opposition has argued that the government delayed local government elections to allow more time for President Maithripala Sirisena to consolidate his hold on the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

The party is split between Sirisena and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa whose supporters have formed a new party to face future elections should they fail to secure nominations from the SLFP. (COLOMBO, Sept 16 2017)





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