Sri Lankans will vote-in their Local Government representatives next month, after a long and challenging two and half year wait.
The attempt to further delay the poll, after a date was announced, by a petition filed by six citizens before the Supreme Court has been averted following a meeting leaders of political parties had with the petitioners. They have since withdrawn the petition, and the Elections Commission now has the all-clear to hold the poll on the appointed date.The dispute was over the 203 local bodies which had their boundaries redrawn by the Delimitation Commission.
It is common knowledge that the petitioners had links to some members of the Maithripala Sirisena faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
That naturally drew the anger of the other parties, and the United National Party, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the Joint Opposition as well as some civil society organizations banded together to oppose the move.
With no elected Local Government representatives, citizens have been forced to rely on the efficiency and whims and fancies of officials who run the Local Government bodies, to have their day to day needs resolved. Garbage collection is one such. Picking up of garbage has become as unpredictable as the weather, and bins and other utensils used to hold garbage, piled outside homes and buildings for days on end, is now a common sight.
There were serious repercussions as well.
When the garbage mountain at Meethotamulla collapsed, killing 32 people and destroying 145 houses blame was placed, at least partly, on the Kolonnawa Urban Council, for ignoring the imminent danger the mountain posed.
The absence of elected representatives gave fresh life to the "shadow" un-elected citizen-run regional councils organized by the Sarvodaya affiliated "Deshodaya" movement, with local officials it is reported, consulting them on numerous matters.
For the voter who has waited a very long time, this election also brings some unique changes.
It will be the first election in Sri Lanka to be held under the new "hybrid" method,where the "first- past- the- post" will make up most or sixty per cent of the Council, while the rest will gain office through proportional representation.
This method, legally called Mixed Member Proportionate System,is close to the German Federal election style. It was passed into law earlier this year through the Local Government (Amendment) Act with the concurrence of all parties in Parliament.
Another first in this election is the mandatory provision requiring a quarter of the nominees to be women.
The new law has also increased the number of Local Government bodies from 336 to 341, while the number of councillors has more than doubled from 4,486 to 8,356.
While the main political parties are in the process of selecting candidates for the LG polls the newly formed Podu Jana Peramuna backed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has already put down their deposits for a number of councils.
We hope that the new system will encourage political parties to nominate candidates who are genuine in their commitment to doing an honest job of work. We hope the voters will be perceptive in their choice on Election Day.
Under the previous method, councillors were elected entirely through the list submitted by the party, and the party Mandarins would decide who the candidates would be. That system made it possible for the parties to park their "muscle" – the thugs and opportunists – who have today the heavy weights in the local bodies, in what has now become a rotten political culture.
But now that sixty per cent would be elected through the wards and through the first-past-the-post method, we hope for change.
If, the political parties do not nominate candidates of good standing, local independents could be backed by the citizenry to contest and represent them.
Local Government is charged by law to "provide for the comfort, convenience and well-being of the community."
This election will give us the opportunity to take back Local Government from the tyranny of party diktat and make it our own. It's an opportunity to root out corruption and thuggery right from the base.
It's up to you.
Ceylon Today, December 4, 2017