Sri Lanka polls chief threatens to quit over vote delays
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s independent election chief Monday threatened to quit without holding the presidential ballot due later this year unless parliament brings legislation to conduct long-delayed provincial polls.
Mahinda Deshapriya told reporter that six out of the nine provincial councils (PCs), the highest level of local government, were up to 16 months over due undermining democracy.
"Delaying an election is as bad as having a corrupt election," Deshapriya said. "If I am unable to hold the PC elections by the time the presidential election becomes due on November 9, I will resign."
Provincial Councils, established under a power-sharing deal aimed at addressing minority demands for limited political autonomy in 1987, are a crucial test of popularity ahead of national elections.
Sri Lanka’s parliament had previously voted to change the proportional representation system of voting for provincial councils, but failure to agree on a de-limitation report carving out new electorates had held up the conduct of the election.
Deshapriya said legislators from both sides of the assembly should agree to end the deadlock and revert to the old system of elections to clear the way for conducing the most important local government election by September the latest.
In the absence of elections, six councils are directly ruled by President Maithripala Sirisena through governors appointed by him.
The next presidential election is due anytime between November 9 and December 9, Deshapriya said adding that his staff will be pre-occupied with preparations for that vote from about September.
"That is why we want to have the PC elections done and over with by September the latest," Deshapriya said.
He urged voters to go to court challenging parliament’s failure to clear the way for local elections as a violation of their fundamental democratic right.
Sri Lanka established an independent elections commission in 2015 under a raft of democratic reforms granting it sweeping powers to conduct free and fair elections.
President Maithripala Sirisena has a constitutional right to call an early presidential election, but if he doesn’t the vote should be held within a one-month window starting November 9. Parliamentary elections are due before September next year. (COLOMBO, January 28, 2019)