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Musthapha calls for Round-Table Conference: To discuss pros and cons of new electoral system

Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister Faiszer Musthapha, expressing his strong opposition to reverting to the old electoral system, called for a round-table discussion of all parties to rectify the identified shortcomings of the new system.

The Minister, joining in the Adjournment Motion on the Provincial Councils Election system in Parliament yesterday, roundly criticized Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader and Minister Rauf Hakeem, accusing him of resorting to communal politics.

“Even Minister Rauf Hakeem raised his hands for the new system. Many minority parties get on to the foot-board of a national party, invoke racism in their poll’s campaigns to bag more votes and increase the number of their MPs. This was possible under the PR system. Deprivation of this opportunity, is the problem they have with the new system,” he said.

“Under the new system, no ethnic group gets undue favour and injustice. No party, no citizen of this country should think only of their community. Unfortunately, they only think of how best they could bargain. We saw that in the Eastern Province. Many of those parties do not contest alone. They contest under the ticket of national parties. They market their ethnicity,” he raged against Hakeem.

Assuring that the Muslim representation would not be affected by the new electoral system, Musthapha went on to note that the new system of 50:50 for PR and First-Past-the-Post system was agreed as a result of a request by the same leaders of minority parties who now speak against it.

“There could be a certain reduction in the number of seats these foot-board parties get. The Muslim community is not solely represented by those foot-board parties. In the past, Muslims were members of national parties, but now national parties are in the habit of outsourcing minority votes. Ultimately what happens is that the tail wags the dog. That is a very unfortunate situation,” he added.

Batting for the new electoral system, Musthapha said PRAFFREL and CMEV representatives who had met him on Thursday, asked him not to revert to the old system as the new system had many progressive features. “The preferential vote created intra-party rivalry and led to the deterioration of the political culture. The last LG election was the most peaceful election in the history of Sri Lanka,” he observed.

He also held the Delimitation Committee responsible for the current mess. “I wrote to the Delimitation Committee Chairman K Thavalingam, with a request to hold an all-party conference before handing over the report to me. However, they said that they had no mandate for that. There are loopholes in the report,” he said.

“It is not ethical to go back to the previous corrupt preferential votes system just because the elections are getting delayed. How many of the members who spoke today proposed alternative solutions to address the identified problems? Many wanted to go back to the old corrupt system as they failed to get the intended results at the last LG elections. I have summoned many meetings at my ministry to discuss the electoral system. How many of those who make a big noise in the House today, were present for those meetings? They don’t support to make it a better system, but simply try to do politics by marketing their ethnicity,” he further complained.

“This is a joke. Going back to the old system would aggravate racist politics. Even though some are dressed as gentlemen, they engage in dirty politics. Sometimes, national parties are restrained in their activity due to pressure from the minority parties.

We have to change this culture and unless we do so, our politics would have no future. We have to change the people’s racist mentality. Even though I belong to a minority ethnic group, I love this country. I think as a Sri Lankan. Doing politics with a racist label is easy for me too, but we genuinely think about reconciliation and the way forward for the country. It is with regret that I make this speech today,” he noted.

He pointed out, as the politicians fail, some civil organizations have come up with proposals to address the loopholes of the new system. “If we decided to go back to the PR system with the preferential votes, the common man will rise against us,” he concluded.


AG’s recommendations not needed for action against Vijayakala: Weerawansa

There is no need to wait for recommendations of the Attorney General to take action against State Minister Vijayakala Maheshwaran over her controversial statement on wanting the LTTE brought back, as she had herself, admitted to having made such a statement, said the National Freedom Front leader Wimal Weerawansa.

MP Weerawansa making a special statement in Parliament with permission from the Chair, said, “On July 7, LTTE was commemorated in the North. The LTTE emblem was painted on roads, while LTTE slogans were painted on the walls and teachers came out onto the streets with their students and lit lamps in commemoration of the fallen terrorists. Meanwhile, Awa and several other gangs are gradually being strengthened in the North. When such activities are being allowed freely, the rule of law in the North is bound to collapse.

That is the reason perhaps that the State Minister’s stress levels would have risen. Hence, I would wish to know what the motive was to promote the terrorists and bring down the rule of law in the North. Police leave had been cancelled, but they are not in a position to implement law and order. On the other hand, 25% of Military presence was reduced in the North and around 100 Military camps are being removed in the North and East. In such a situation, Minister Vijayakala says she wants the LTTE back.”

Weerawansa noted that the minister in a statement issued on Thursday, had admitted that she had violated the Constitution. “On the other hand you (Speaker) are seeking the AG’s advice on whether she had violated the Constitution, while she herself admits to having done so.

As such, does she have a right to remain an MP? I don’t say that it is wrong to talk about the rights of the Tamils. But it is not acceptable to allow her to promote terrorism.” In response, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said once he received instructions from the Attorney General, he would convey them to the party leaders and would take a decision regarding Minister Vijayakala. “I am not in a position to make a statement on the security situation prevailing in the North. The Prime Minister would do that. I have consulted the Attorney General regarding Minister Maheshwaran’s statement. However, I am not in a position to tell you if it would be today or next week,” the Speaker said.


Delay in holding LG elections: Is govt. seriously committed to democracy: Opp. Leader

Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan said the delay in holding elections is a serious issue which also raises the question of whether the governments in this country are seriously committed to democracy functioning in regard to provincial governance. He noted that it has been almost a century since the proposal was made for a system of governance that would enable the sharing of powers in regions or provinces to be able to exercise the power of governance.

“Still, we have not been able to have in place a credible power sharing arrangement and to ensure that elections are held at the proper time. Since the enactment of the 13th Amendment to date, steps have been taken by every single president and government to enact the new Constitution which contains proposals in regard to provincial governance that went far beyond the 13th Amendment. One would ask why these successive governments have been unsuccessful. Perhaps, it was because they did not have a 2/3rd majority. Now with the joint government of the two major parties and the support of a majority, we are in a position to muster a 2/3rd majority, which would enable the enactment of a new constitution within an undivided and perpetually indivisible country that would put this problem to an end and give the country the freedom to move forward,” he added.

The Opposition Leader said that our country had no future, unless there was a new Constitution.

Sampanthen, referring to the statement made by State Minister Vijayakala Maheshwaran, said, “Understandably, all this is happening because there is no final resolution of the conflict and because we have not been able to frame a constitution which all could accept. People must be able to determine their destiny in the areas they live.” Hence, he said democracy must be restored in the provinces and there must be early provincial council elections, as the tendency to give step motherly treatment to the provinces was unacceptable.


PC (Amendment) Act No. 17 of 2017 must be repealed soon:Sumanthiran

The TNA demanded that the Provincial Councils (Amendment) Act No. 17 of 2017 be repealed immediately, enabling the holding of Provincial Council Elections without further delay, if the government fails to bring in reforms for the Act within the next two months.

TNA MP MA Sumanthiran presenting the Adjournment Motion in Parliament yesterday, said, “Terms of office of three Provincial Councils came to an end in October 2017, whereas no elections for the three said provincial councils have been conducted to date owing to the fact that the Provincial Councils (Amendment) Act was amended in order to introduce reforms to the electoral process, while three more provincial councils will end their respective terms of office by October 2018. No election to any Provincial Council could be held due to the fact that the electoral reforms are not yet complete. An urgent priority has arisen to complete electoral reforms, so the franchise of the people of several provinces is not denied any further. We urge the government complete the electoral reforms to the Provincial Councils election laws immediately without further delay. If it is not possible to complete the said reforms within the next two months, we urge that the Provincial Councils (Amendment) Act No. 17 of 2017, be repealed immediately so that elections to the provincial councils could be held without further postponement.”

He noted that it was important to set out the background to the present situation. After the government took office in 2015, several reform processes were undertaken. There were important reforms to the Constitution that was pledged and in January 2016, a resolution was presented to Parliament to appoint a Constitutional Assembly and undertake that task of drafting a constitution for this country. “That was adopted unanimously by this House on March 9, 2016. There were three important issues that were identified in that particular process. One was to address the national issue to finally settle the issue that had plagued this country for 70 years by proper devolution of powers to the provinces and secondly, to address the issue of the executive presidency and make a decision with regard to the pledges given to the country prior to every presidential election that the executive presidency would be abolished. Thirdly, to reform the electoral laws. Since 1978, this country had been using the proportional representation system and after several years, various shortcomings of this system were identified. Most important of them being that there is no member of Parliament who is accountable to a particular Constituency. They all represent a district and in that context, it is difficult to identify members who are accountable to the people of a particular constituency. Hence a promise was given that the electoral system would be reformed.”

There were also allegations with reference to the preferential system, said Sumanthiran, adding that in that constitutional assembly process, the steering committee started discussing the reforms to the electoral process.

In those discussions, an alternate proposal was put forward known as the mixed member proportion (MMP) by which, it is meant to be an overall PR system, but within it you accommodate people who are elected from specific constituencies. In order to maintain that overall representation, a certain percentage of members were then appointed.

Hence, it was necessary to identify the ratio between those members who would be directly elected from these constituencies and those members who would be appointed as the compensatory PR so that the overall representation in Parliament would be in accordance with the vote that was cast by the people.

“In those discussions, several models were examined and at one stage, there was a policy decision taken that parties were generally in agreement with the MMP with a 60-40 ratio. Sixty to come from constituencies directly, while the other 40 to be appointed so that the entire 100% would be proportionally representative.

Thereafter, there were various disputes with regard to details. Such as cut-off, bonus, etc. the Steering Committee left it as it was and moved on to discuss other issues,” he said.


Sri Lanka, a veritable laboratory for testing out election systems:Minister Hakeem

Ever since adult franchise was introduced, the country had been having different systems of elections at different periods of time. Of late, we have come to a position where the country has virtually become a veritable laboratory for testing out election systems. None of these tests have become positive as the different concerns of the various segments and communities of the country could not be addressed, said the Leader of the Muslim Congress and Minister of City Planning and Water Supply Rauff Hakeem.

Joining in the Adjournment Motion on the Provincial Council Election system in Parliament yesterday, he said that the latest election system that was introduced was done very surreptitiously without the majority of the members knowing what they were going to do. “All of a sudden on the pretext of introducing some amendments, which was originally in the Order Paper relating to women representation, an entirely new system of election was stealthily and surreptitiously introduced in the House,” he said, adding that he was one of those who took firm objections to the process in which that provincial council election law was brought to the House and introduced.

“We made several protests and having got some assurances from the Prime Minister that all concerns related to the minorities, especially the dispersed Tamil communities and the Muslims, who had some very serious issues pertaining to the new system, they agreed to even convert the proportion of first past the post electorates to that of the proportional representation of seats and the amended 60 - 40 was further amended to 50 - 50 and having observed what happened in the LG elections, it became very clear that the new system that was meant to get rid of the negative features, in fact further aggravated the existing situation. He said although the new system was designed to prevent the buying of votes, it in fact got worse. Electoral abuse had increased many fold despite the fact that these were to be addressed through a new system,” he added.

Meanwhile, Hakeem said that they had only received a volume one of the delimitation reports that had been tabled. “There is a further volume which is with various organisations in every district, while we were not provided with that second volume to ascertain if sufficient action had been taken by the delimitation committee to the observations and memoranda submitted by different organisations at district level. However, he said that the relevant period in which this report should have been debated, had now passed.”

He noted that the delimitation committee had turned down in many places proposals made by his party for multi member electorates to accommodate minority representation in several areas. Hence, he proposed that the new system be completely ignored and revert to the older election system.


JVP wants new Delimitation Committee to reduce LG electoral wards

Chief Opposition Whip and JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, requested for the appointment of a new Delimitation Committee for Local Government bodies to reduce the number of electoral wards and thereby limit the total number of LG members to 5,000.

Taking part in the Adjournment debate in Parliament yesterday, the MP pointed out that an agreement had now been reached that the number of LG members, which increased to over 8,000 at the last LG elections, be reduced to 5,000.

“The number of electoral wards have to be reduced to at least 3,000, if the number of members do not to exceed 5,000. For that, a new delimitation process is necessary. The President also recently commented that the number of LG members must be reduced,” he said.Commenting on the claims that the new electoral system had led to instability in LG authorities, the MP pointed out that an electoral system could not assure stability if elected members are ready to switch sides for money. That could only be changed by creating a better political culture, he added. “Today, politics is a profit-making business. You would realize this if you compare the living patterns and properties of politicians before and after being elected. The deterioration of political culture could not be concealed with whatever electoral system. A fair representation of people’s mandate is what is required by an electoral system,” he observed.


‘Will govt. repay increased fuel prices’?

Chief Opposition Whip and JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, queried as to whether the Government would repay the consumers who bought fuel at increased prices from Thursday midnight until the sudden withdrawal of the decision from noon yesterday. He made this query, bringing to the attention of the House that the President had ordered to for the revoke of fuel price increase and had instructed to sell them at the previous rates. He asked for a clarification from the Government over the confusion and whether there had been Cabinet approval to increase the fuel prices. “Petrol stations charged the new prices from consumers from midnight Thursday. Now the decision has been changed suddenly. Can the consumers get back the money they overpaid?” he questioned.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya directed the Chief Government Whip and Minister Gayantha Karunathilake to refer the question to Petroleum Industries Minister Arjuna Ranatunga.


JVP Leader irritated by Wimal’s theatrics

JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and NFF Leader Wimal Weerawansa locked horns in Parliament yesterday.

MP Dissanayake was interrupted by MP Weerawansa when he was drawing the attention of the House to the confusion on fuel price revisions.

With his mike off Weerawansa was heard singing aloud “Ratakata oone apamana agayak” and the Speaker immediately questioned who that was.

MP Dissanayake who was quick to respond to MP Weerawansa saying, “We experience in this Parliament what happens when a person grows physically with a loud mouth, but when the brain does not grow, we need not bother about them. His is nothing but baby talk. He was making very immature comments just because he has a big mouth. Even school children are watching,” he hit hard at Weerawansa.

MP Weerawansa then again tried to disturb MP Dissanayake asking for a ‘point of order.’ An irate JVP Leader then said, “I know your whole family is suffering from mental illnesses. You should be sent to a lunatic house. Shame on you.”

 


 

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