State Minister may have erred – EC Chief – The Island

LG polls likely to be delayed: Polls monitors alarmed

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Election Commission (EC) Chief Nimal G. Punchihewa yesterday (16) said Provincial Council polls couldn’t be put off through the intervention of the Cabinet. Attorney-at-law Punchihewa emphasised that there was no provision under any circumstances for the Cabinet to request the EC to postpone PC polls though Local Government polls could be put off.

LG bodies comprise Municipal Councils, Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas.

The EC Chairman said so when The Island sought his response to Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Roshan Ranasinghe’s recent declaration that he submitted a Cabinet paper seeking postponement of the Provincial Council polls by one year.

A statement dated Dec 15 issued by State Minister’s office quoted him as having told a workshop for Local Government members at Laya Leisure at Kukukeganga, 09 Dec. that the EC would be soon informed of the Cabinet decision. Lawyer Punchihewa said that perhaps a genuine mistake had been made by the State Minister or the Ministry when issuing a statement as regards the event held at Kukuleganga.

The EC consists of Nimal G. Punchihewa, S.B. Divaratne, M.M. Mohamad, K.P.P. Pathirana and Mrs. P.S.M. Charles.

When the EC’s response was brought to the notice of the State Minister’s Office, a spokesperson said that as the Minister was overseas he couldn’t be contacted immediately but clarification would be made soon. The State Ministry didn’t respond to The Island query by the time this edition went to press.

Responding to another query, Punchihewa asserted that perhaps the State Minister had referred to a government decision to put off the forthcoming Local Government polls. Asked to explain, EC Chairman said: “The EC conducted the last LG poll on Feb. 10, 2018. The LG bodies were constituted on March 20, 2018. Therefore, the next round of elections would have to be conducted before March 20, 2022.”

Punchihewa recently told the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on electoral reforms that the EC was in the process of preparing to hold LG election scheduled for late March 2022. Punchihewa said that the EC needed at least four months to make preparations for the LG polls.

The EC Chief said that he hadn’t been so far informed of a move to put off LG polls.

Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunuwardena’s Office spokesperson quoted Punchihewa as having told the PSC that if LG poll was to be conducted in late March under the existing system, the date had to be announced in January 2022.

The PSC consists of Dinesh Gunawardena, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Prof. G.L. Peiris, Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi, Douglas Devananda, Wimal Weerawansa, Basil Rajapaksa, Ali Sabry, PC, Jeewan Thondaman, Rauff Hakeem, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Kabir Hashim, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Mano Ganesan, M.A. Sumanthiran, Madura Vithanage and Sagara Kariyawasam.

The PSC headed by Minister Gunawardena is scheduled to meet on Dec 20. The spokesperson said that in spite of the prorogation of the Parliament, the PSC on electoral reforms would continue.

Leading polls monitoring group PAFFREL said that they were quite shocked by the move to put off LG polls. Acknowledging that State Minister Ranasinghe had inadvertently referred to scheduled LG polls as PC election,

PAFFREL spokesperson Rohana Hettiarachchi questioned the rationale in putting off LG polls. Hettiarachchi who also represents the March 12 Movement said that postponement of elections under whatever circumstances undermined democracy. The official said that a statement would be issued soon on the issue at hand.

The yahapalana government delayed LG polls and then scuttled the law pertaining to PC polls. Currently, there is no law available to hold the elections.

The original law enacted in terms of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 was formulated in 1988 but due to issues that arose from it, the last government proposed changes. Those changes were included in a new PC Elections Bill No 17 of 2017 but lawmakers on both sides disagreed with the provisions.

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