‘New LG Act fails to bring in stability to councils’ | Sunday Observer

‘New LG Act fails to bring in stability to councils’

Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne  Pic: Lake House Media Library
Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne Pic: Lake House Media Library

The political showdown in Maskeliya that followed the appointment of Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman and Deputy Chairman last week, clearly spelt out deeper issues intertwined with the local government election laws under the new Act, the issues that need to be addressed urgently.

While the newly elected members of the Maskeliya PS exchanged verbal blows inside, an outbreak of fisticuffs were witnessed outside the venue Ambal Hall, between the CWC and Palani Digambaran’s party supporters, turning the place into a mini battleground.

The law enforcing authorities were compelled to summon the riot police to control the situation. While at least one woman councillor beside her male counterparts was seen throwing stones at her opponents during the altercation, the TV news showed a hopelessly beaten man with ripped clothes slowly trudging away.

The election of the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman in Maskeliya became a tense affair, because none of the parties managed to secure a clear majority at the February 10 election. Maskeliya PS consists of 16 seats, shared by UNP 7, CWC 7, SLPP 1 and UPFA 1. The recent election resulted in a total of 169 such Councils, with no party or Independent group securing over 50% of seats.

Thus there will be more of Maskeliya PS style incidents when those Councils elect the Chairmen and Deputies at their respective inaugural meetings in the near future.

In Galle, Negombo, Seeduwa, Balangoda and a host of other local councils, the top seats have been won in secret ballot elections by members of a party that did not win majorities in those areas in the February 10 contest.

Constitutional Law expert Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne said the aftermath of the LG election has left space for the legislators to do a thorough review of the new electoral system. He said, while there were a number of achievements to its credit, the Act has failed to bring in the much needed stability to the Councils.

“People wanted a change in the system, abolishing the ‘manape’ system - that was achieved. There was no violence, no intraparty rivalry during the election period. Besides, every ward has a member of its own now. Proportional Representation has been assured. Then there is the increased women representation,” he pointed out.

He said, however, the stability factor has gone wrong. “I think the results of all the Councils need to be thoroughly analyzed to discuss any amendments to the LG election law,” he added.

As a solution Dr. Wickremaratne however, pointed out that the two bonus seats allocated to the party winning the clear majority at the election should be retained in the new hybrid system as well. It was a safeguard against hung Councils.

He proposed, “The one obtaining the highest wards should get the two bonus seats, but if two parties get equal share of wards like in the Dehiwela-Mt.Lavinia Municipal Council, then the party with the highest number of votes should be given the two Bonus seats.”

He also said, in principle he agreed that the 25% women quota must stay.

Dr.Wickremaratne said rather than vesting the power with the political party to nominate members from an additional list, the law should provide for selecting members for extra seats from among the best losing candidates.

An Election Commission senior official said according to what has been observed so far they have come to the conclusion that the bonus seats were a must for the winning party to consolidate power so that the losers cannot hijack the Councils and negate people’s wishes.

“At least one Bonus seat must be allowed when there are no overhang seats,” he said.

The official also pointed out the need to introduce a threshold to offer Council seats. “Only those parties or independent groups which have secured 5% or more votes should be made eligible to receive seats. This will contribute positively to prevent hung councils,” he explained.

He said this threshold can even be lowered to 3%. According to the Election Commission statistics only 170 out of 340 Councils have absolute majority for a single party (over 50% of seats in the council). In the remaining 169 Councils, parties winning the highest number of seats have to look for tie ups to establish the Council and begin operations. A vast majority of these Councils are yet to hold their inaugural meetings, despite the Provincial Council and Local Government Ministry taking action to issue the gazette notice of elected members to each Council mid this month.

Internal discussions in the Election Commission are also focusing on whether a limited preferential system should be re-introduced at the time of the voting to overcome the current issues.

Attention has been drawn that if there was a possibility, to have a separate ballot paper to mark preferences.

“The Maskeliya incident cannot be blamed on a flawed electoral system alone,” Executive Director PAFFREL Rohana Hettiarachchi said.

He said, last week’s fracas by regional politicians was more or less about ethics, simple decency and lack of political refinement. “I would not say that the system had nothing to do with it. The parties that have won the Councils with a simple majority do have an issue of establishing power.

Sometimes, the winning party may lose out on appointing the Chairman, because the other parties would get together and seize power.”

Yet, Hettiarachchi reiterated what transpired in Maskeliya on Wednesday was not a result of the new LG Election Act. “If there was certain consensus among national leaders over where they would stand after the local government election in establishing power in the Councils, this should have been honored. But instead, they hoodwinked the voters and showed they were ready to couple with their worst enemy to enjoy power.”

But, he said this was no reason to show their indecency in public, especially, when there are other more democratic means to settle issues.