Will this be an election year ? : Elections Commission awaits go-ahead | Sunday Observer

Will this be an election year ? : Elections Commission awaits go-ahead

With the countdown to December narrowing and the election heat getting intensified, different political parties making strategies to outdo each other by hook or by crook were busy floating rumours on what election will come first - the provincial council, general or presidential.

The SLPP which was pushing hard for the provincial council election earlier, muted its propaganda in the past few weeks, the key reason being the expected defeat in the North and East. Authoritative sources said the UNP was also toying with the idea to go for a general election first instead of a presidential election due to breakneck disagreements over the presidential candidate with several seniors vying for the post. The SLFP on the other hand was petrified of any election before a strong tie up with the opposition, an inside source said.

The SLFP and SLPP reached a basic agreement last week on a name for the new coalition that would face whatever the upcoming election, if the rest of the talks that will wrap up this month, go as planned. The parties have agreed to use Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Peramuna as the name but there is still no consent on the election symbol. The SLFP main players including General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera have opposed any moves to retain the flower bud.

But the SLPP has been mum about the talks so far.

However, despite widespread speculation of provincial council or a general election preceding the scheduled presidential election later this year, election monitors and independent observers shot down any such possibility before December due to inevitable legal snags.

They said it was not due to pessimism but since there is only a slim chance of these two elections having a go at testing voters’ aspirations before the next president-to-be could seek his or her mandate to occupy the highest office for the next five years.

The independent election watchdog - PAFFREL’s Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi said the only way for the country to go for provincial council elections at this stage is for the President to gazette the final delimitation committee report prepared during Minister Faiszer Mustapha’s tenure - Thawalingam’s report. But the fact that it was not passed in parliament can give the political parties the right to challenge it in court.

As an alternative he could also gazette the delimitation review committee report. But the same fate can befall the delimitation review committee report since due to the sudden prorogation of parliament by the President, the report could not be adopted in the House. The law spells out the report needs to be passed with two thirds majority in parliament.

The third option would be to present a new bill in parliament to allow the National Election Commission (NEC) to revert to the old preferrential electoral system until the process of delimitation, which was mandated by the new elections law, completes full cycle. This option however, is too far fetched, according to the Election’s Commission.

The Bill needs to be prepared by the Ministry, sent to the Attorney General for fine tuning and then to the Legal Draftsman’s Department to pen the law. Thereafter it should be tabled in parliament, referred to the Supreme Court for an opinion and then debated in parliament and passed with a two thirds majority. The whole process including the proof reading could take at least another two months.

NEC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya said the presidential election will be set in motion from October this year to ensure that a new president will be in office by December after the election on December 7 as stipulated by the present presidential elections law. President Maithripala Sirisena in a recent speech also confirmed that the presidential election will be held in December and the general election two months later

although this announcement was subsequently marred by rumours that he was planning to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court once again on weather his term ends in January 2020.

The opposition said he was only trying to extend the term of office.

Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner NEC, S. Achchudan said he has not been briefed of any provincial council elections to be held soon. “We are ready to hold any election and waiting for the go ahead from the competent authority,” he told the Sunday Observer. The competent authority in this case would be the Provincial Councils Ministry.

The NEC has already prepared the letters to be sent to the polls staff. “As soon as we are sure which election comes first, we will send out the first batch of letters,” Achchudan said.

Provincial Council and Local government Ministry Legal Officer, Gayani Prematilleke who has to clear the legal path to facilitate the NEC to call for PC elections also confirmed on Thursday that they were not preparing for an immediate PC elections.

Explaining why a General election cannot happen this year, PAFFREL Executive Director said the President can arbitrarily dissolve parliament, to go for a general election, only after February 2020. That is because the President’s executive powers were pruned under the 19th Amendment.

He can dissolve parliament only after four and half years after a general election, in accordance with a restriction brought in under the 19th Amendment. Alternatively, a general election can be called if two thirds of parliament members vote in favour, “ but in this instance it is highly unlikely,” he said.