By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Daily News
Colombo, April 21: The preliminary draft of the report of the National Committee on Delimitation of Divisions for Local Government bodies was handed over to Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena on April 11.
The preliminary draft of the report of the National Committee on Delimitation of Divisions for Local Government bodies was handed over to Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena on April 11.
The Delimitation Commission (DC) headed by Mahinda Deshapriya, former Chairman of the Election Commission has made substantial progress in its given task of delimitation of electoral wards of the Local Authorities- Municipal Councils, Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas.
It is an unenviable and painstaking task as redrawing of constituency boundaries had to be done while taking into consideration many factors such as the number of voters, their ethnicity and the geographical size of the constituency to ensure proper representation of different communities, without marginalising or ignoring any minority groups or minor parties.
Chairman Deshapriya and other members of the Commission managed to complete the first draft report, which was handed over to Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena earlier this month. As Deshapriya explained the draft will be dispatched to Distract Secretariats across the country and the Local Authorities and the public will be able to make further recommendations for consideration before the Delimitation Report is finalized by the given date, i.e. April 30, 2023.
The Commission received a considerable number of proposals, suggestions and recommendations from the public, political parties, religious leaders and non-governmental organisations and most of them were incorporated into the draft report. The members of the Commission took extreme care to ensure proper representation of the people in the councils. Their main difficulty was how to accommodate the religious communities scattered in different areas in a district. It was not easy to ensure the representation of some minority communities –Tamil, Muslim and Malay – in some constituencies. Similarly Sinhalese are a minority in some constituencies in the Colombo district. All these factors were taken into consideration while drawing the constituencies. Furthermore, the proportional representation quota as well as bonus seats based on district percentage of votes will also take care of proper representation of minority communities and minor parties unable to get 50% of the cast votes in a constituency to get elected under the first past the post system.
The Delimitation Commission was appointed as there was an outcry over the current enormous size of the Local Government bodies and was a heavy burden on the Treasury. The Local Authorities are divided into three different groups: Municipal Councils, Urban Councils and Divisional Councils (Pradeshiya Sabha). Currently, there are 341 Local Authorities (24 Municipal Councils, 41 Urban Councils and 276 Divisional Councils). The Commission said the number of representatives to be elected will be reduced to 4,714 from 8,400. The number of elected members has been reduced to 2,882 from 5,092 and the number of members from the list has also been reduced to 1,832.
Considering the demand for reforms of the electoral system as well as for re-demarcation of constituencies, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, in his capacity as Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, issued an extraordinary gazette appointing a five-member National Delimitation Committee for the demarcation of wards for Local Authorities. While former Commissioner of Elections, Mahinda Deshapriya Chairs the Committee, Jayalath Dissanayake, W.M.M.R. Adikari, Dr. K. Thavalingam, and I. A. Hameed serve as members. The National Delimitation Committee is effective from November 1, 2022 to February 28, 2023, as per the gazette notification and the term was later extended up to April 30, 2023.
Deshapriya acknowledged that the Commission received some requests for caste-based demarcations of electoral wards of the Local Authorities but they were not entertained. “In the reduction of the current number of wards in the delimitation process, the Commission received requests to retain some such wards directly identified with certain caste groups. We declined to entertain such requests.” Although the issue of caste is more visible in the North and the East, it is seen all across the country. “We find it everywhere, more or less,” he said.
Referring to the large number of representations received from different institutions and the public, he however lamented about the lack of enthusiasm even among the political parties to send proposals to be considered in carving outwards with new boundaries.
Deshapriya said the Commission considered ensuring the representation of numerical minorities, as far as possible. They also proposed 25% representation for women.
According to the Commission sources, the Colombo Municipal Council composition is proposed to be reduced to 67 from the current membership of 110, which includes 66 elected directly and 36 according to PR and 8 members as an overhang. The Commission proposes to eliminate the overhang member quota.
Meanwhile, Opposition MP, S. M. Marikkar proposed to appoint a committee comprising MPs from all parties in Parliament to review the recommendations made by the Delimitation Committee. “This would also set the Sinhala candidate against the Muslim candidate and vice versa. The report also contained recommendations which would create errors and imbalances in representation in the Local Councils. When they were told to bring down the number of 8,400 Local Councillors to 4,800, they slashed the number by half without giving due consideration to practical problems arising thereby. For example, in Kolonnawa there are 20 Local Councillors – 12 of them are elected while there are eight bonus seats. The total number is proposed to be down to 10. The way it is proposed to be done is by electing only six members and allocating four bonus seats,” Marikkar said.
However, Deshapriya said the Committee recommendations are open to amendments. Once the final report is handed over to the Prime Minister on April 30, he, as Minister of Home Affairs and Local Government will appoint a Review Committee to examine the report and propose its recommendations for the required Gazette notification.
Commission Chairman clarified that the Delimitation Report has nothing to do with the scheduled Local Government elections, for which nominations have already been received. “The Government has to pass the bill in Parliament to annul the current nomination papers and that is the only way this delimitation report can have an impact on the current Local Government polls,” he said and pointed out that on three previous occasions, Parliament has passed such bills.