LG polls likely by end Jan | Sunday Observer

LG polls likely by end Jan

Putting to rest weeks long speculation on Friday, the Elections Commission announced that the notice calling for nominations to elect members to Local Government bodies will be issued in the last week of November.

This will set in motion the polls apparatus to hold the much anticipated elections in late January or early February. “Accordingly, the Notice of Intent to hold the elections is to be issued on November 27,” the Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya said.

In keeping with the guidelines in Section 10 of the Local Government Elections Act No 2 of 1988, a senior elections officer said, nominations are set to be accepted from December 11 to December 14 noon.

Heavy pressure

The Act dictates that the polls date should be scheduled between the 5th and 7th week from the final day of accepting nominations. This means the polls could fall on any day between the last two weeks of January to the first week of February. Elections Commission Chairman is expected to make the polls notice within a few days after the close of nominations.

Under heavy pressure by political parties and the civil society, the Elections Commission called for a meeting on Friday, to make a final decision on the nomination notice.

The final piece of the puzzle - a crucial gazette notice by the Local Government and Provincial Councils Ministry, dated November 2 - was issued by the Government Printer on Saturday, November 11. This gazette notice announced the number of members to each local government body, which stands at nearly 8,300 now, following the fresh Delimitation Report and demarcation of wards.

The senior officer said, despite a case filed before the Appeal Court by six petitioners seeking a written order to annul the Extraordinary Gazette notice by the Ministry on the demarcation of new wards, the Elections Commission decided to instruct the Returning Officers to issue the Notice of Intent to hold the elections.

Interim order

“The process to hold elections somewhere in late January, will continue until the decision of the Court of Appeal is issued,” the official said, adding that even if the court rules in favour of the petitioners, there is a possibility to hold elections in about 140 undisputed LG bodies of the total 341.

Six voters from six different districts last week jointly filed a writ application under Article 140 of the Constitution, seeking an interim order suspending the operation of the gazette notice by the Provincial Council and Local Government Ministry dated February 17, 2017 (No.2006/44). In addition, the petitioners sought a Writ of Certiorari quashing the decision in the said gazette to amend the boundaries, number of members and constituent parts of wards.

Alterations to boundaries

Further, the petitioners sought a Writ of Prohibition and Writ of Mandamus to stop anyone from acting on the said gazette notice and compel them to repeal/ amend the gazette notice so as to promulgate regulations in compliance with the provisions of the Local Authorities Elections Ordinance of 2012.

The petitioners, from Kandy, Colombo, Kurunegala, Badulla, Ratnapura and Matara districts, cited Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha and his Ministry Secretary H.T.Kamal Pathmasiri as First and Second Respondents. The petitioners stated that the Minister has acted against his jurisdiction and altered the number of members elected to wards, whereas, he has powers only to cause alterations to the boundaries of wards.

Speculations

They have accused that the said gazette notice have been promulgated to accommodate ‘partisan considerations’.

They have cited that certain instances were multi-member wards and single member wards, including, in the Colombo and Kandy Municipal Council areas, which were altered under the said gazette notice.

The bench comprising, Justices, L.T.B.Dehideniya, Kumudini Wickremasinghe and Shiran Gunaratne on Thursday, fixed the date for November 22 to determine if an interim order should be made. The counsel appearing for the Respondents, Senior Deputy Solicitor General Arjun Abeysekera requested the Judges to annul the petition on the basis that it was faulty.

The bench allowed applications by the political parties, the UNP, JVP, Lanka Podujana Peramuna and Eksath Jathika Nidahas Peramuna as well as Polls Monitors PAFFREL and CaFFE to intervene in the case as interested parties.

Representatives from PAFFREL and CaFFE said they will not allow any attempts to further delay the LG polls. Lawyer Yasas de Silva representing UNP interests said, the green party had no intention of causing a delay in holding the LG elections.

Debate

While the topic whipped up a heated debate in Parliament on Thursday, there were speculations elsewhere also, as to who instigated the move to petition the Appeal Court over the ‘delimitation gazette’, seemingly, to further delay holding of the LG polls.

The constituent parties of the government rejected claims to this effect levelled at each other and there were accusations against the Joint Opposition as well.

Joint Opposition MP Kanchana Wijesekera in Parliament said, the petitioners were known to Ministers Dayasiri Jayasekera, Dilan Perera, Pasanda Yapa and other SLFP MPs but these Ministers and MPs distanced themselves from the claims saying that those were malicious claims and they had nothing to do with the court case. 

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