PC elections, yet to see the light of day | Sunday Observer

PC elections, yet to see the light of day

Elections are a necessary evil in a democracy. That said, the continued postponement of elections for the nine Provincial Councils doesn’t bode well, either for the country or for the Councils themselves.

At present, the terms of the Councils have expired and they are run on the directions of their Governors. The Government has been arguing that, to conduct elections, it needs to enact the relevant legislation which is yet to be finalised, there being differences of opinion about which system of elections should be adopted.

However, such excuses have now become a familiar refrain fed to the masses time and time again. Few would believe that the President and the Government really wanted to conduct elections over the past four years, but were unable to do so.

Elections to Provincial Councils have been postponed an umpteen number of times, citing different reasons.

The former Minister in charge of Provincial Councils, Faiszer Mustapha has made a fine art of postponing elections, delaying elections not only to the Provincial Councils but also to Sri Lanka Cricket, when he was the Minister in charge of Sports! This feet-dragging is what has driven Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya to exasperation and he is threatening to resign if these polls are not held by November this year.

It will be recalled, that previously, elections to Provincial Councils - and indeed to all elected bodies in the country- were based on the proportional representation (PR) system. While this system ensured a reasonably fair representation in the elected body, they were then handicapped by a single party not being able to secure a simple majority. This is the situation even in Parliament today.

Therefore, this Government contemplated a system of ‘mixed’ representation incorporating the PR system as well as the Westminster ‘first past the post’ system. That was the basis on which the last Local Government elections were held in February 2018.

In that poll, where the United National Party (UNP), the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) contested, the SLPP was the clear winner, the UNP a distant second and the SLFP was reduced to an ‘also ran’.

With the benefit of such hindsight, these parties are now trying to determine when and how the Provincial Council elections should be held. Obviously, the SLPP wants them held as soon as possible because they believe they still hold the edge over their opponents.

That maybe a complacent assessment, because, while they did enjoy significant levels of support among the masses around this time last year, that was severely dented when the Constitutional crisis erupted later in the year and the SLPP leadership behaved as if wielding power was their birthright- until the courts intervened and brought them down to earth.

That the UNP too has not been keen to face Provincial Council elections is obvious. In government it has bravely declared it is not running scared of the polls but it does not seem to be in a great hurry to test the pulse of the people either.

Its confidence battered by the stinging defeat in February 2018, the UNP has had several lifelines to regain its place in the political hierarchy. When the vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was defeated in April last year, it pledged to get its act together. That did not happen.

It was given another rude shock when President Sirisena unceremoniously sacked Premier Wickremesinghe six months later. The legal tussles that followed united the collective opposition and the masses rallied around the UNP- if only because they believed in preserving their democratic rights.

It is a moot point as to whether the UNP has made optimum use of that opportunity. The revamped Cabinet didn’t include any young blood and we were treated to the same tired old faces sporting new portfolios. The only significant addition to the Cabinet was a questionable one, re-instating a Minister who had previously resigned under a cloud and whose actions have done irreparable damage to the party.

If the UNP is in a bad way, the SLFP is in dire straits. What remains of the SLFP- the handful of MPs who remain loyal to President Maithripala Sirisena- are actively exploring ways and means of securing their futures by aligning with the UNP, if necessary. An even smaller number are clinging to the dream of a united and reinvigorated SLFP.

If that is the case, one might ask, why is President Sirisena asking that polls be held by May? In fact, he presented a proposal to Cabinet this week, asking that the polls be expedited. If the SLFP’s chances at the Provincial Council elections are as good as the Sri Lankan cricket team’s chances of winning a test match in Australia, why is President Sirisena so keen on elections? Is it because his commitment to democracy overrides all other considerations?

The President is keen to have elections because he wishes to cement his newfound camaraderie with the SLPP.

If the SLFP and the SLPP contest the Provincial Councils as one alliance and produce a winning combination, it would be easier to tempt the SLPP into aligning with the President for the Presidential poll. Otherwise, in the present circumstances, the SLPP is likely to go its own way which is why it is placing demand after demand in return for co-operating with the SLFP.

This is the backdrop against which the Provincial Council elections are being debated. So, make no mistake, none of the major political parties are looking at provincial polls because they love democracy- they simply want the best deal they can get, with one eye on the bigger prize: the presidential elections which must be held later this year.

Still, this country is a democracy and elections, whether our politicians like it or not, are an integral part of a democratic system. Therefore, any decision to conduct Provincial Polls must be welcomed, whatever the underlying intentions are, because, as far as elections are concerned, it is better late than never.

As to whether the elections should be held on the PR system, the Westminster system or a ‘hybrid’ system, we can only say that for forms of elections, let fools contest; whatever is best administered is best!