Political parties and civil organisations are planning to file ten petitions against the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution when the Bill is presented to the Supreme Court. The amendment which has been gazetted by the government seeks to provide for holding elections of all provincial councils on a single day.
Among the parties getting ready to challenge the bill in the Supreme Court are the Joint Opposition, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) and Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE).
Sources said two weeks had passed since the government gazetted the amendment and, therefore, it could be taken up in Parliament anytime. However, the President has to forward the amendment to the Supreme Court.
The amendment would enable the government to hold PC elections on a single day for the North Central, Eastern and Sabaragmuwa Provincial Councils whose terms are due to end this year.
the Constitution has been gazetted to hold all Provincial Council Election polls on the same day and Parliament would determine the date on which all Provincial councils stand dissolved.
The Amendment published on July 28 states that the “date on which all elections would be held should not be “later than the expiration of the term of the last constituted Provincial Council”.
A second gazette issued to amend the Provincial Councils Elections Act No 2 of 1988 seeks to substitute the word ‘within one week’ to ‘an election to such Council’ and ‘within one week from the date specified in terms of Article 154 DD of the Constitution’ to ‘the Commissioner shall publish a notice of his intention to hold an election to all Provincial Councils’.
Chairman of the Elections Commission Mahinda Deshapriya recently stated that preparations were being made to hold the Provincial Council elections in October of this year as the terms of the Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils were set to expire between September 6 and October 1,2017.
The Central, Northern and North Western Provincial Councils in the meantime are set to expire in September of 2018, the Western and Southern in March of 2019 and the Uva Provincial Council would expire in September 2019.
According to the previous provisions, elections are to be held within one week of the term of the Council having expired but with the new amendments, all elections could be put off until the expiration of Uva’s term in 2019.
Executive Director of the CaFFE, Keerthi Tennakoon said the government was attempting to delay elections through coming up with bogus ‘constitutional amendments’.
Tennakoon said the gazette on the draft bills on the 20th Constitutional amendment was an attempt to delay the holding of Provincial Council elections until October 2019, when the tenure of the Uva Provincial Council ends.
“Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has shown his desire not to face any election till the end of President Maithripala Sirisena’s term in December 2019,”he said. Tennakoon said the Prime Minister wished to accomplish three objectives through the ‘constitutional amendments: holding all Provincial Councils on one day and giving parliament the power to decide when to dissolve the councils, to extend the tenure of some provincial councils to hold the elections in one day, and vesting the powers of the councils with Parliament when they are dissolved.
“It is undemocratic to authorise parliament to run a provincial council when it stands dissolved. A constitutional amendment to postpone PC polls requires a referendum and two thirds majority in Parliament. This is clearly stated in the verdict on Karunathilaka And Another V. Dayananda Dissanayake, Commissioner of elections in 1999,” Tennakoon said.
People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) yesterday called on the government and political party leaders to take action to hold elections to provincial councils without postponing them on some pretext or the other.
Executive Director of PAFFREL Rohana Hettiarachchi said in a media statement: “The government has shown its reluctance to hold elections by continuously postponing them. Now, the government attempts to postpone elections to provincial councils, claiming that conducting polls on a staggered basis will be costly and, therefore, all of them should be held on a single date. For that purpose the government has to wait till end of 2019. Terms of the Sabaragamuwa, North Central and Eastern Provincial Councils are due to end in the first week of October. Accordingly, there were media reports that the Election Commission was ready to call for nominations for the elections of those three provinces on Oct 2. However, Cabinet gave approval for amending the laws to hold elections to all nine provincial councils on a single day. This is just another move to postpone elections in some provinces till the end of 2019.”