By Kelum Bandara/Daily Mirror
Colombo, January 1: Faced with resistance from within and also a segment of the Maha Sangha, the Sri Lankan government is hesitating to call for elections to the Provincial Councils. The Cabinet could not take a decision on this last week. Instead, it referred the matter to leaders of parties aligned with the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).
There were two schools of thought among the parties in the government on the conduct of elections to reconstitute the provincial councils which are currently without elected representatives. At this meeting, Land Minister S.M. Chandrasena, Water Supply Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi were in support of the elections. Chandrasena and Wanniarachchi are members of SLPP. They had their own interests in supporting the elections. Chandrasena’s brother S.M. Ranjith is waiting in the wings to be a candidate for the Chief Minister’s post at the North-Central Provincial Council if elections are called. The same goes for Wanniarachchi since her husband Kanchana Jayaratne is eying the same position in the Sabaragamuwa province.
Minister Nananayakkara is a left-leaning politician who believes in power sharing or devolution power to the provinces. He is keen to see the provincial councils intact.
At the same meeting, three more party leaders- Wimal Weerawansa of the National Freedom Front (NFF), Udaya Gammanpila of Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) and Dinesh Gunawardane of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) who did not support elections at a time like this when there is a pandemic. These are parties that are also opposed to the provincial councils in principle. They have criticized federalism or any other power sharing arrangement in the harshest possible terms.
Bu this time, they put forth their view against the Provincial Council elections on the basis that electioneering is impossible under the pandemic situation. They also said that it would not be appropriate to have elections to the Provincial Councils until the evolution of a new constitution with a fresh electoral system. They also noted that it would be against the electoral mandate to conduct polls without scrapping land and police powers devolved to the Provincial Councils.
After observing the general mood of the country and the government lparty eaders, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is reported to have said that this is not the ideal time to conduct the polls.
Some SLPP leaders believe the Provincial Councils should function only with elected representatives. Otherwise they should be scrapped. Currently, the functions are discharged by officials under the Governors. SLPP leaders including its national organizer Basil Rajapaksa believe that it is use keeping the councils without elected representatives.
Today, there is a groundswell of public opinion against the Provincial Councils. This opinion was created by the members of the Maha Sangha. The Buddhist clergy had laid the ideological base for the election of this government. Therefore, it is not that easy for the government to ignore them.
Leading Buddhist monks such as Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera even wrote to the President asking for the abrogation of the Provincial Councils. He lashed out at the government publicly against any move to hold the elections.
Also, there is a legal barrier in the conduct of elections at the moment. The new law that governs such elections remains inoperative over the delimitation process. The government should make it operative by addressing the outstanding technical issues or enact fresh legislation to conduct the elections. It is a process involving a lot of time. As such, the conduct of elections is ruled out at the moment.
The Provincial Councils were created to devolve power as demanded by the Tamil parties based in the north and the east. It is a political system which evolved in response to the demands by these parties after the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord. Ironically, the Tamil parties such as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) remain silent today despite the fact that the Provincial Councils are without elected representatives for a long time.