LG polls then and the present scenario | Sunday Observer

LG polls then and the present scenario

22 January, 2023

Local Government election fever is gradually spreading across the country though amidst some uncertainty due to the current economic and political situation in the country. LG polls are scheduled to be held by late March 2023 according to the LG Act and the election commission is prepared to hold it on schedule.

However, according to the sentiments expressed by some senior Government Ministers, it is rather unlikely that the Government is seriously interested in holding the election at this point of time due to the severe financial constraints.

A large number of economists, independent analysts, unbiased political enthusiasts and even some members of the Maha Sangha have requested the Government to postpone the LG Polls for some time until the economy becomes fairly stabilised.

Indeed quite contrary to all these the Opposition parties such as the SJB, JVP and the newly formed alliances are hell-bent on having the LG Polls as scheduled absolutely with no respect for the above views.

Whatever the final outcome of the LG polls would be, there will not be a change of the central administration in the country and the motive behind their effort is to assess the popularity of their parties in the electoral districts across the country.

It is very sad to note that none of these parties are least concerned about the urgent burning issues of the ordinary masses. Other than these opportunistic politicians, the general public irrespective of any differences are not least interested in going for an election at this hour spending an enormous amount of money as the country is in a very pathetic economic situation.

History of LG polls

It is quite timely and appropriate to refer to the history of Local Government Elections in Sri Lanka. Local Government bodies had been in existence in Sri Lanka from the colonial days. They were known as Village Councils (VC), Town Councils (TC), Urban Councils (UC) and Municipal Councils (MC).

Urban Councils and Municipal Councils still operate under the same names, but with much wider powers with the introduction of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1987. VCs and TCs were done away with the introduction of 13th Amendment and replaced by Pradeshiya Sabhas.

The administrative areas were re-demarcated based on the population, strength of the economy and number of Grama Niladhari divisions and every Pradeshiya Sabha is covered by an Additional Divisional Secretary.

Prior to 1987, the formation of these local bodies was quite different. All local bodies had a ward system. From Municipal Councils down to village councils, all local bodies had a set of wards which were represented by party members.

Any local body which wins the majority number of ward members from the party elect their chairman and takes over the administration of the council for a specified period of four years.

Local bodies were the breeding ground of promising politicians in the past in this country. J.R. Jayewardene, S.W.R.D.Bnadaranaike and Ranasinghe Premadasa rose to the zenith of their political career, representing their parties, having started their political career as ward members of the Colombo Municipal Council.

There were a number of senior legislators such as Dr. N.M.Perera,  A.E.Goonesinghe, Peter Keuneman, Ashoka Karunaratne,  M.D.Banda and P.C.Imbulana who started their political career as local body members from their respective areas.

All of them were seasoned politicians who rendered invaluable service, not only to their areas, but also to the entire country during the latter stages of their political careers.

During the olden days, no regular payment or gratis was made to these ward members, instead, a nominal fee was paid to them for every sitting. It was considered an honourable job carried out by these members who commanded the respect of the public of the area.

Introduction of Pradeshiya Sabhas

However, with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, Pradeshiya Sabhas were introduced replacing VCs and TCs, and the Local Authority Elections Act was also changed. It was further amended by Act No. 25 of 1990.

Elections for local bodies were held under the new system for the 1st time in 1991. The elections on March 2023 would be the 9th occasion when the elections are conducted under this system. Unlike in the early days, politics has now become a Iucrative profession and all parties are equally interested in winning the election by any means, to establish their political empires.

The candidates are even more anxious to attain power and resort to any mean tactics since they are sure of enjoying the perks, power and privileges once they are elected.

The election process has also become extremely complicated, from the time of preparing nomination papers right up to the time of issuing official results by the returning officers. It had been recorded at previous Local Government elections that there had been different types of discrepancies with regard to the preparation of nomination papers by political parties, which had resulted in the rejection of their nomination lists.

There are a number of qualifications, statutory requirements and some provisions for a person to be a candidate under a registered political party. The party organiser  in the area has to see the conformity of all candidates of his or her area before submitting the lists to the returning officers.

Some political parties even appoint legal experts to scrutinise the nomination lists. The candidates are chosen after they are interviewed by a panel appointed by the party hierarchy.

Despite all preparations, the nomination papers of many parties are rejected due to various lapses. There are minute details which have to be carefully scrutinised by the party secretaries or authorised officers before submitting their lists to the returning officers.

The following are the basic requirements to be fulfilled by a candidate under a registered political party who wishes to contest the election for any of the local bodies.

1.He or she should be a person residing in the same area for a period of not less than three years and his or her name should appear in the election register.

2.He or she should be a person over 18 years of age as at June 30 of the preceding year.

3.He or she should not be a person who had been convicted for any offence and served a jail term of over three months.

4.He or she should not be a person who has been diagnosed by a physician as an insane person.

5.If the candidature aspirant is a Government servant he or she has to resign from the post held before the nomination papers are signed.

6.The registered name of the parties should be correctly indicated in the nomination papers.

With the introduction of the new Amendment to the LG Act in 2017 where the number of members became almost double, the entire process became even more cumbersome and complicated from the time of submitting the nominations papers right up to forming the councils after declaring the results.

The duty of the party secretary, group leader or the authorised officer is to scrutinise their nomination papers and see whether all requirements are met and whether the nomination list is accurate.

Even if there is a slight difference or discrepancy in name written on the nomination papers as against the birth certificate of a candidate, the returning officer has the full authority to reject their entire list of nominations. The rule equally applies to independent groups as well.

Current plight of LF polls 2023

Quite evidently there are two factions airing different views about the impending LG polls. The general opinion is that it is not a timely move to go for an election spending an enormous amount of public funds at a time like this when the national economy is at an abysmal level and finding it difficult to manage the basic and inevitable expenditures of the deserving masses of the country.

Concurrently the other faction consisting of SJB, JVP and the newly formed alliance are vehemently accusing the Government of its endeavour to postpone the election as the Government is unable to muster the support of the majority population.

But the ground reality is that only the Opposition parties and their close associates are engaged in the election campaign while the vast majority of citizenry is not least interested in wasting time on an election campaign as it will not bear any fruitful results for the common man.

However, it should be stated that holding the timely elections is a foremost responsibility of any democratic Government but our history reveals that the local elections in the past had disrupted the peaceful public environment and caused havoc in the society with grass root level members of all parties fighting each other during the run up to the election.

The mentality among some aggressive sections of the people such as aragalaya activists and their allied forces are well beyond the peaceful methods of negotiating political views of the general public.

During the past LG polls the village based political supporters of all parties had caused significant distractions and social divisions leading to chaotic situations in their areas and the Government in power had to impose even police curfew in some places to avoid political crimes.

Quite contrary to those by gone days, right now the country needs social harmony and peace mainly in order to get out of this economic mess.

In this backdrop both factions are anxiously awaiting the final verdict of the Supreme Court on the writ petition filed against conducting the LG polls and the three intervention petitions filed seeking the dismissal of the writ.

However, the Election Commission had officially informed the Supreme Court that they have made all the ground work to conduct the 2023 local elections on schedule. Still for all the general public is kept in suspense over the LG polls 2023.