The Local Authority Elections Amendment Act (LAEAA) passed in Parliament in August, requires 25% of women representation in the 335 Councils at the forthcoming elections in January 2018.
The Parties said they are frantically searching for the right women candidates to represent their Parties.
Under the LAEAA, it is mandatory that Nomination Lists of Parties have 25% women representation. Lists with lesser numbers will be rejected in total by the Elections Commissioner.
The new system permits Parties to appoint 60% candidates on direct voting and 40% by the proportional representation (PR) system.
If sufficient women fail to win, Parties will be called on to appoint women candidates from their list to make up for the 25% representation in the Council. All votes received by the Parties in a Council is counted and candidates will be appointed under the PR system.
Leading Parties said they are in the process of selecting their women candidates. While many Parties were positive saying they will not face many issues selecting the right candidates, others were pessimistic, saying the Sri Lankan culture will prevent them from getting sufficient numbers.
Senior Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) member and Minister of Science, Technology and Research, Susil Premajayantha said that appointing women to wards will not be an issue. He said his party has advised all district organisers and notices have been issued on the new requirement of 25% women representation.
“We have no issues, within two weeks we will be ready with our list,” he said.
In terms of fund mobilization, he said the candidates have to find their own campaign funds. “The party will cover the general expenses related to the elections,” he said.
However, he said the Local Council Elections will not be expensive, as they have to cover only around 1,000 to 3,000 households. They can cover them by visiting homes.
Meanwhile, United National Party (UNP) organizer Daya Gamage said they will be selecting candidates from the over a million Lak Vanitha Society members from 10,000 societies islandwide.
He said that increasing women representation was the brainchild of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and that, they are happy about it. “They have equal rights to participate in politics,” he said.
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) member M.A. Sumanthiran said their Party is in the process of selecting women candidate to contest. “The law requires it and we will fall in line,” he said.
“We are working with several of them and, if the numbers are insufficient, we will select them from the women cooperatives and organisations they lead. The focus will be on getting young people into the forum,” he said.
With regard to fund mobilization for candidates he said the TNA does not spend money on election campaigns, unless the circumstances call for it. “If candidates want to spend their monies they can do so,” he said.
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), MP Vijitha Herath said that selecting women candidates to represent the Party will be a challenge. He said Sri Lanka’s sociocultural situation is not conducive for women to take leadership in politics.
“The women in Sri Lanka are seen as persons managing the home-front, procreating and rearing kids which prevent them from holding key positions in politics. To change all this, we need an attitudinal change,” he said.
The suitability criteria will be educational qualifications, social ability and candidates’ personality. We are doing a lot of awareness programmes among the women to persuade them to join in. We do not allocate any money for the campaigns for we do not spend monies on propaganda,” he said.
Meanwhile, the women politicians already in the fray, expressed cautious elation at the turn of events.
SLFP MP Sudharshini Fernandopulle from the Gampaha District said, “Although it is a victory for women, the 25% representation was inadequate.”
“Considering our population, where we hold an equal number or, even more, our representation in politics is very low,” she said.
“However, this Govt has taken notice of the poor numbers and taken the right step. This is a step forward, but we need to move further up,” she said.
She played down the theory that the Sri Lankan culture is dampening the women’s spirit to come into politics, saying it is ‘gender discrepancy’ that is barring women. “They need confidence and have to be empowered,” she said.
Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) MP Sriyani Wijewickrema said women should be allowed to contest in their own right.
She said that women do not need charity to participate in politics, but should be given the chance to fight in their own right.
“Under PR, the women will be granted 25% of seats in the Council, whether they win or not. This has to change. Let us fight independently,” she said.