ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to amend the Provincial Council election Act giving greater representation to women, but also effectively delayed polls to three councils.
MPs voted 154 in favour and 44 against the controversial piece of legislation that came two days after the Speaker announced that the Supreme Court effectively shot down a move to postpone Provincial Council (PC) elections.
Only members of the Joint Opposition which is led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa voted against. The lone abstention appeared to be the result of a government minister pressing the wrong button during electronic voting.
Voting during the third and final stage of the bill saw 159 in favour and 37 against and no abstentions. It should be noted that no member of parliament accompanied President Maithripala Sirisena to the UN General Assembly where he spoke early this morning (Sri Lanka time) underscoring his concern to ensure that the bill passed without any hiccups caused by absentee MPs.
Earlier in the day, it was announced that the bill to amend the PC elections Act required a two-thirds majority approval of the legislature.
Despite several attempts by the JO to scuttle the vote, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya stuck to the agenda despite two interruptions to the sittings due to the din caused by Rajapaksa loyalists.
The amendment will ensure that future elections to Provincial Councils will be under a hybrid system where both proportional representation and first-past-the-post will apply.
There is also a provision to ensure a minimum of 25 percent representation for women candidates.
However, the amendment will also hold up elections to the Sabaragamuwa, North-Central and Eastern Councils which should have gone to the polls by December under the operation of the previous PC elections act.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the House that they will complete the required de-limitation to draw up electoral boundaries for the hybrid election system within four months and complete the due council elections by January.
While an intense debate raged inside the parliamentary chamber, smaller parties, excluding the JVP, or People’s Liberation Front, lobbied the government to tweak the bill to ensure their interests were addressed.
Wickremesinghe said the bill will not be against the interests of the bigger parties or the smaller groups and a happy median had been struck.
However, the thrust of the JO was that the government used the bill to postpone PC elections that could not be effected through the 20th amendment that was virtually struck down by the Supreme Court.
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M. A. Sumanthiran noted that the Supreme Court’s decision did not give reasons as required by Article 123 of the constitution.
Parliament was only told that it was a divided decision and the House as well as the country was unaware how the judges made the determination and their reasons thereof, Sumanthiran said.
He noted that in the case of the 13th amendment to the constitution the nine-judge bench had given their reasons and they had enriched jurisprudence of the country.
The three-judge bench which ruled on the 20th amendment was headed by chief justice Priyasath Dep. The others on the bench were justices Anil Goonaratne and Vijith Malalgoda.
(COLOMBO, Sept 20, 2017)