Elections peaceful; how did women’s quotas, hybrid voting work? | Sunday Observer

Elections peaceful; how did women’s quotas, hybrid voting work?

The biggest, ever, exercise in republican democracy on this island is under way with the voting phase accomplished yesterday with the lowest levels of disruption and violence in decades. Several generations of citizens, with their experience of many varied elections past will appreciate the very marked down turn in disruption and violence per election since the National Unity coalition took governmental power.

By tomorrow, citizens will know their governmental and oppositional leadership at the level of local sovereignty. The collective will of citizens, as expressed in their vote, will appoint the people’s representatives at the level of governance most intimate with the people. It is government in the local communities, be they villages clustered under Pradeshiya Sabha or, wards of Urban and Municipal Councils.

In this globalized world, where all sovereignty is shared, the political choices of the citizens at local level will also have an impact on the provincial and national levels of government. The new grassroots legislative bodies will soon be exercising oversight and policy-making in local government. And, their legislative actions at local level will then indicate parameters of local needs and interests to the legislative bodies at provincial and national level. At the same time, the local bodies will operate within the institutional and budgetary parameters as defined by the provincial bodies and the national parliament.

Citizens will also watch carefully the operation, for the first time, of an innovative hybrid voting method and an ‘affirmative action’ procedure of candidate selection. The new voting method, which combines proportional representation with the first-past-the-post system, will, hopefully ensure that the candidacy at village and ward level genuinely represents the local community while avoiding the intense rivalry and factionalism engendered by the list system required by the past purely PR voting method.

At the same time, the nation will watch closely the outcome of the new requirement for political parties and groups to ensure a minimum 25 per cent participation of women candidates. How many aspiring women were successful in being elected? Will their numbers in their respective councils be strong enough to ensure at least the beginnings of proper representation of the more than half this island’s population that comprises the female gender?

The degree to which women citizens flocked to cast their vote for women candidates will be a useful indicator, especially, to politicians, administrators and activists of the active concern of this half of the population in ensuring that their needs and interests are being addressed in governance. Will potential mayors, ministers, prime ministers and presidents emerge from among this pioneering cohort of new women activists in elected government?

It is up to both the senior political leaderships, largely male, as well as the relevant public servants at all levels, to facilitate and empower such newly elected women legislators as they exercise, for the first time, their powers of oversight and policy-making in their respective local communities. Concerned civil society organizations which have long advocated such empowerment of women, will no doubt, actively engage with local government with new hope while providing their own resources and expertise in facilitating newly elected women legislators.

Senior political leaderships will also need to probe and redress firmly any unfair hostile actions or violence against women candidates during the election process itself. There were several reports of harassment and intimidation suffered by women candidates, often at the hands of either the supporters of fellow male candidates or those male candidates themselves. Overall, the indications are that this first exercise in a special affirmative quota for women candidates in Sri Lankan elections has been broadly favourably received by the general population.

The remarkably peaceful nature of the local government election has been praised by all civic rights monitoring groups in the country, as well as internationally. The Government may well take credit not simply for the exercise in political management of the elections but also for risking much in legislating the necessary institutional infrastructure and their constitutional empowerment to enable the smooth and correct functioning of the entire electoral process.

The setting up of independent commissions governing vital sectors, namely the elections department, the police and, the public bureaucracy has empowered personnel at all levels in these sectors to carry out their functions without fear or favour to an increasing degree these past three years under Yahapaalanaya rule. This newly empowered infrastructure and cadre has ensured the smooth running of the local government elections, the most stable exercise in decades, despite being bigger in scale and more complicated in method, than ever before.

It is to the staff of the Elections Department and the thousands of other public servants who were mobilized to help, that the nation’s first ‘Thank You’ should go for the smooth conduct of this election. Right now, having supervised the actual voting phase, this staff is yet busy in the second phase of counting and calculating seat allocations. Today, we all await the final announcements of the electoral result with more confidence than uncertainty in these stable times after many disruptive, distorted and violent electoral exercises in the past.

To the Police and other law and order authorities should go our next ‘Thank You’ for ensuring the actual peace on the ground with as much patience as neutral firmness in the close confines of local communities caught up in vigorous political contest. The Elections Commission itself has demonstrated its dexterity in controlling the overall process, building on its reputation for astute supervision of a massive, yet delicate, national process.

And the nation’s public servants at all levels have, today, carried out their duties with much less fear of harassment, manipulation or even violence than in recent decades, thanks to the proper functioning of the Public Service Commission.