‘Just implement the law, fulfill the 25% quota’ - Rights Activists | Sunday Observer

‘Just implement the law, fulfill the 25% quota’ - Rights Activists

Chulani Kodikara
Chulani Kodikara

As uncertainty loomed over fulfilling the mandatory 25% quota for women councillors in the new local government institutions last week, the Election Commission was inundated with a tsunami of inquiries, compelling it to hold ‘back to back’ meetings with party leaders and women’s groups to explain and explore the best way out of the situation.

It was said, ‘practical difficulties’ were there and at least 10 councils out of 340 would have to run without the 25% minimum representation of women councillors when constituted on March 6 or March 20 if there is to be a postponement as predicted.

Earlier, it was said, almost all councils with ‘overhang seats’ may not be able to fulfill the 25% women quota since the winning parties could not appoint more females from the additional list as they had exceeded their seat allocation. Unless they have females in the elected list, there is no legal means to appoint more female members to add up to 25%. A total of 25 councils had ‘overhang seats’. But, by last week this was reduced to ten councils, including Manmunei Pattu, Karathivu and Thirukkovil.

The Elections Commission officials said, there was no way they could appoint more female members fulfilling the 25% quota in these councils. In the case of Manmunei Pattu, ITAK has won six seats under the Wards system with one ‘overhang seat’ and all the other parties had won less than 20% of votes each. That meant they were not obligated to appoint female members.

No-compromise zone

Author and Activist Chulani Kodikara said, the law on women councillors, a hard won case for women’s rights organizations, was a no-compromise zone.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer before a scheduled meeting with the Elections Commission last Friday, she said, they were waiting to hear what the practical difficulties were as spelt out by Deshapriya.

No sooner the Election Commission pointed out the difficulties in adhering to the 25 % quota for females under the present Act, Colombo Mayor elect Rosy Senanayake issued a statement. She is the first female Mayor-elect of the nearly 150 year old CMC.

She said “the 2017 Local Authorities Elections Act, which amended the Local Authorities Ordinance, was successfully brought before Parliament by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and was the result of 20 years of agitation by women working on the ground.”

10% of nominees

A minimum of 10% of nominees from each political party for election through the Ward system has to be women while a minimum of 50% of nominees on the separate ‘Additional Persons List’ of each party also must be women. She said this formulation was put together with the sole aim of ensuring that a minimum of 25% of the members in each and every Council are women.

But there are provisions for exemptions in the law itself – Sub section (1) and (2) of the Section 65A to be exact. If the parties or independent groups secure less than 20% of the total number of valid votes in the Ward or if they have won less than two seats in the Council, they are exempted from the 25% rule.

The Election Commission officials held a press conference led by Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya last Thursday to update the media on the latest developments in the aftermath of the LG elections.

The former Election Commissioner who is now the Chairman of the three member Independent Election Commission said, if not for the Commission even the 10% quota for females in the contesting list would not have been realized.

“Actually, we wanted 15% quota for females under the Wards but the political parties reduced it to 10%. “The results have proven that we were correct. More than 10% of the elected candidates are female, and in Maharagama 18 women are among the elected candidates,” Deshapriya said.

Of the 5,075 total number of elected candidates in the 2018 LG elections, females account for 535.

Former chairmen, deputies

He said, in order to ensure a smooth functioning of the local councils, the main political parties wanted to appoint former chairmen and deputies who lost the election from the list, and hence the number of females to be returned from the additional list stand to shrink.

“We made crucial decisions to ensure that there will be more female members in the local council. But, our concerns were disregarded during discussions when the new electoral system was fine tuned.”

“Instead of asking to appoint women members from the list, it would have been better if they were allowed to contest the election,” he said.

The Election Commission met the political party leaders on Monday to discuss the members to be returned from the additional list and the issue of women members.

It had transpired whether an amendment to the law was needed to operationlize the new councils that had women members short of the stipulated number-and if so to tender cooperation by the legislature.

Kodikara said, it was not the prerogative of the Election Commission to say that ‘there was an unfair burden on the political parties which has won only a few seats to accommodate all women candidates under the new law. She said, it was up to the parties to take a decision.

“The law on minimum representation of women is clear and straightforward. There is the law and we want him to just implement the law,” she said. The women’s organizations have also signed a petition addressed to the Election Commission, Political Party leaders and the Speaker against what they claim, ‘apparent moves’ to scrap the minimum women representation.

Over 40 organizations have endorsed the petition titled ‘DO NOT Default on Implementing the 25% Legally Binding Quota for Women’. The March 12 Movement, a civil society movement for good governance has also called upon the political parties not to ignore the 25% quota.

While the Election Commission insisted that there was neither a clamour nor moves for a revision of the law, the women’s organizations circulated the petition among the media demanding to respect the spirit of the 25% quota.

They urged to ‘ensure that political parties are in compliance with all provisions of the law’ and ‘recognizing the exceptions in the quota to encourage political parties to go beyond the minimum requirements and nominate more women to fulfil the spirit of the 25% quota, thus strengthening diverse representation.’