PC polls and the democratic
Predictably, the dissolution of the Sabaragamuwa,
North Central and Eastern Provincial Councils has triggered some
feverish speculation in particularly Opposition circles on the
reasons for this seemingly premature initiative. While it would
not be pertinent to comment on the validity of these hazy
hypotheses, we consider it in order to point out that no
democratic norms and traditions have been violated by the
dissolution of the Councils. On the contrary, the move could
help sustain the vibrancy of local democracy.
In any dynamic democracy, the by-election or the mid-term
poll is eagerly awaited by the electorate because it helps the
observer in the task of assessing the effectiveness or otherwise
of his government.
Even in Sri Lanka, in former times, when members were elected
to Parliament on a polling division or electorate basis, unlike
the more impersonal current system where, for instance, members
are elected to the legislature on a district and political party
foundation, with the focus falling less on personalities, the
mid-term by-election was eagerly awaited by voters. Such
mid-term or 'half way through' electoral contests were welcomed
by governments also because they provided a measure of the
government's appeal for the people.
Therefore, going for an election, at national or provincial
level, before the expiration of the full term of office of the
relevant incumbent administrations, is a perfectly democratic
and legitimate exercise which would add whim and vigour to the
prevailing democratic order. The Opposition, in fact, should
welcome these opportunities to run afresh for office, popularize
and project their policies and agendas and gauge their standing
with the electorate. These opportunities to run for election
should, therefore, be wholeheartedly welcomed by our polity.
While seeing polls of this nature as contributing
significantly to the democratic process, the upcoming series of
elections should also be seen as providing an opportunity to
once again assess the performance of the Provincial Council
system. We hope that the upcoming electoral debates would focus
strongly on the issue of how well the needs of the people are
being served by the PC system.
While the tussle for power and office among political parties
is the stuff of politics, we hope the larger questions relating
to the PCs would also be addressed. For instance, besides the
ability of the PCs to address the needs of the public, the polls
debates would also need to take up the issue of whether the
functions of these provincial institutions are corruption-free
and whether the grassroots masses' voices are being integrated
into the decision-making process.
We cannot subscribe to the notion that the PCs are 'white
elephants' because they, theoretically, play a significant role
in the development process. The potentialities in the system
have not been exploited fully to date and this is probably why
the structure is seen by some as not serving any useful
purposes. But the fact is that the strengths of the system have
not been recognized fully and used to the maximum.
Therefore, we hope the system would receive the attention it
should. Such considerations are of special significance to the
Traveling in the Eastern Province could be an enjoyable
experience on account of the vastly developed road network in
the region. If road development and maintenance is a pointer to
development, then, the Eastern Provincial Council could be
considered as having done well. But, road construction is not
the sole substance and standard of development.
To what extent are the total needs of the people being met by
the Eastern PC? To what degree are the people at the centre of
the decision-making process in the PC? These and many more
questions need to be put to those at the helm of not only the
Eastern PC but of the other PCs too. May we remind those
avariciously waiting to plunge into the election race that power
is not an end in itself. Power is the means, on the contrary, to
meeting the needs of the people.