The Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and Western Provincial Councils have passed the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in the last two days. The 20th Amendment will also be taken up for debate in the Southern Provincial Council, which had once rejected the Amendment.
It is also likely that the Amendment will be passed at the Northern Provincial Council, which also rejected the Bill once, as Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran said that they support the Amendment.
Thus it seems that the Provincial Councils will pass the Amendment, albeit with some amendments, paving the path for a debate and a vote on the Bill in Parliament.
The 20th Amendment to the Constitution seeks to give Parliament the powers of Provincial Councils when they are dissolved and to decide on the date of the dissolution of Provincial Councils and it has received conflicting views.
Previously, the majority of the Uva Provincial Council members voted against the Amendment defeating the draft Bill with five for and 12 against while eight abstained.
Wayamba Provincial Councillors sought legal advice as to how the draft Bill will affect the duration of the Wayamba Provincial Council while the Northern Provincial Council refused to arrive at a final decision without amendments to the draft Bill.
Earlier, election monitors threatened to take legal action if the Government goes ahead with the Bill, stating that this Amendment will ensure that there will be no elections till the end of President Maithripala Sirisena’s term.
On the other hand, the government insists that the 20th Amendment is in keeping with the promises made during the Presidential and General Election campaigns by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
And indeed electoral reform was one of the main campaign promises of the current administration. There is a widely held belief that the Proportional Representation System as well as the Preferential Voting System are two of the main reasons for significant election law violations, election violence and misuse of State property during Sri Lankan elections.
Moreover, loopholes in the existing laws allowed several administrations to conduct provincial and local council elections on a staggered basis and almost all such elections were fraught with violence, election law violations and misuse of State property.
For example, the North Western Provincial Council elections of 1999 held by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga administration and the ones held by Mahinda Rajapaksa administration between 2013 and 2014 were among the most corrupt elections in Sri Lankan history.
Thus there was popular opposition to the existing electoral laws from the general public who have repeatedly got behind endeavours to reform the existing electoral system and laws. Thus the 20th Amendment to the Constitution can be an important step in ironing out some of the issues that prevail in our electoral system.
However, given that the Amendment gives Parliament the powers of Provincial Councils when they are dissolved and the power to decide on the date of the dissolution of Provincial Councils, the government needs to ensure that it has robust mechanisms so that a government can’t manipulate the system and strip the periphery of powers given by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.