Local Polls at last | Daily News

Local Polls at last

With the signing by Minister of Local Government and Provincial Councils Faizer Mustapha of the Gazette notification pertaining to the new Mixed Electoral System earlier this week, the Local Government (LG) Elections are now slated to be held in January next year.

The LG Polls were delayed for a couple of years until the completion of the delimitation process and the refinement of a new electoral system. While many politicians, including those from the Government itself, blamed Minister Mustapha for “intentionally” delaying the polls, his explanation was that he had to do a perfect job vis-à-vis the entirely no-political and non-partisan delimitation process. According to the Minister, all the impediments to holding the LG election have now been resolved.

According to new amendments the number of Local Government bodies has increased up to 341. According to the gazette notification four new Pradeshiya Sabhas have been created in the Nuwara Eliya District. The area which comes under the purview of the Ambagamuwa Pradeshiya Sabha have been sub-divided into three areas namely Ambagamuwa, Norwood, and Maskeliya Pradeshiya Sabhas while the Nuwara Eliya Pradeshiya Sabha division have been sub-divided into three areas namely Nuwara Eliya, Agarapathana, and Kotawila Pradeshiya Sabhas. The number of councillors has also increased to 8,356.

Accordingly, the Elections Commission would issue the nomination note in the week starting after November 27, 2017. The parties and independent groups intending to contest will have to tender nomination papers starting from December 11 and ending at 12:00 p.m. on December 17. The nominations will be accepted during a three and a half day period between December 11 and 20. The Commission according to the Local Government Elections Act will select a date between January 25 and 31 other than a Sunday or a Government holiday to hold the polls. Judging by past elections, the election could well be held on a Saturday, which is convenient for all.

There are many positive aspects of the new electoral system which will do away with the Proportional Representation (PR) system in its present form. The PR system favoured candidates awash with finds because only they could campaign throughout an entire district. However, with the proposed new system, a mix of First-Past-the-Post and PR (under which all future elections are likely to be held), candidates will mostly be elected from their own wards or electorates. This will enable middle-class professional candidates with no current political background to emerge on to the political limelight. In fact, the Government deserves plaudits for insisting on a quota for women and youth representation at local bodies despite opposition from certain backward groups. Nomination papers of political parties or independent groups which do not adhere to this stipulation are likely to be rejected by elections officials.

This is a step in the right direction as women’s representation in politics is still at a very low level in Sri Lanka cross all political bodies and institutions despite the country producing the world’s first woman Prime Minister way back in 1960. Youth from both sexes will get an opportunity to shine on the political stage and make an active contribution to development through the new Local Bodies. After all, they are more in sync with the grassroots and have a better knowledge of a given area’s development needs.

Delimitation was also a necessary exercise, given that demography and development imperatives have changed over the last few decades in many areas. Some of the municipal wards have been drawn up decades ago and have little or no relevance in today’s context of population growth and fast-paced development. This concern has been reflected in the break-up of Ambaganuwa and Nuwara Eliya Pradeshiya Sabhas into more manageable units. However, some have expressed reservations about the increase in the number of councillors which is almost double the present number from a cost: benefit perspective. Indeed, no purpose will be served by increasing the number of local councillors per se if they do not deliver the goods. A mechanism must be in place to ensure that the people derive the maximum benefit from the proposed expansion of local bodies.

At a time when there are a lot of misconceptions floating around on devolution, Local Bodies are prime examples for devolution in action. If the Central Government alone and by itself can do everything in all areas, then there would no need for the existence of local bodies and Grama Sevakas. Decentralization to the village level was needed because only the political and community leaders in the villages possess an intimate knowledge about the shortcomings and needs of their areas. It is also a locally tried and tested method that has generally been effective.

The Local Polls and the subsequent Provincial Council polls will also be a golden opportunity for the electorate to make a fresh start, without endorsing corrupt, inept or racist elements. Voters islandwide will get a chance to vote for professionally qualified, untainted men and women who will be committed to uplift their areas. They should not squander this chance to start a new political culture in 2018. 


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