(1998 July 01)

The government and the opposition are engaged in a battle over the provincial council elections. The battle has been going on for nearly two weeks with each side trying to cheat the other and the public in general. They resemble the Raigamaya and the Gampalaya who not only deceived their customers but also tried to hoodwink each other. I am puzzled as to why these two characters were named after two ancient capitals in Sri Lanka. Does the folk story refer to two chieftains from these two capitals? Even those days there would have been people who tried to deceive the public, but the ordinary Sinhala villager could have seen through their deceptions and at the same time pretended to be tricked.

The drama, according to the newspapers, began on the Eighteenth of June, when the ministers G.L. Peiris and Rathnasiri Wickremanayake informed the leader of the opposition, of the difficulties the government faced in holding the provincial council elections in August as scheduled. The public was not told what the government expected from the opposition at that stage, but it is understood that the ministers wanted the support of the opposition to postpone the PC elections, as the security situation was not conducive to hold the elections as scheduled. The government had indicated that to conduct the elections about thirty thousand members from the police force would have to be withdrawn from the east and the north and it is not possible to do so with the current Jaya sikuru operation.

The UNP at its working committee meeting held on Friday the nineteenth decided to oppose the postponement, giving the usual reasons that " it was not a good thing for democracy" etc. The British not only gave the parliamentary system but was also instrumental in providing us with such helpful "responses".

However, that was to be the opinion of the working committee of the UNP. The UNP is such a good democratic party that the Leader or the "Nayaka thuma" has enormous powers. After all it was the UNP that introduced the executive presidential system in order to strengthen the democratic hand of the common man.

On Saturday the twentieth at a meeting held in Kiribaththalawa near Teldeniya Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe told that the UNP would support the government to postpone the PC elections provided that the President Chandrika Kumaratunga gave an assurance to hold the presidential elections before November. This meant that the UNP would provide the necessary two third majority in the parliament for certain constitutional amendments.

Probably unaware of the Kiribaththalawa declaration of Mr. Wickremasinghe, on Sunday the twenty first, Dr. G. L. Peiris again asked for the support of the UNP to postpone the PC elections. He had told the leader of the opposition that in order to provide with the security asked by the UNP, the PC elections would have to be postponed to December. He had added that if the opposition co-operated with the government to postpone the elections then an assurance could be given that the necessary security could be provided.

On the twenty third the President accepted the "challenge" of the Leader of the Opposition and accordingly Dr. Peiris informed Mr. Wickremasinghe, who was about to enter the Kirivehera premises in Kataragama, that Presidential elections would be held in June, provided the UNP supports the government to postpone the PC elections and assure a two third majority in the parliament for the relevant constitutional amendments. The UNP parliamentary group met on the twenty fifth and Mr. Wickremasinghe announced that there is no change in his stand. A special cabinet meeting was held on the twenty sixth to decide on the UNP stand and after much deliberation no decision was made!

Now we are back in square one. Last Sunday Mr. Anuruddha Ratwatte announced that security could not be given if the PC elections are held in August and they have to be postponed till December. It now appears that after giving a training to the new recruits to the police force they can be used to provide security for a December election, without going through the exercise of withdrawing forces from the east and the north!

In a world of Raigamayas and Gampalayas, where there is no transparency, it is not easy to find out what is going on. There are many "theories" which attempt to explain these data. Before attempting to construct a "theory" one has to analyse the data at hand to see whether something would emerge from them. There is one more observation or datum which is of interest. According to a week end newspaper the TULF wants a postponement of the PC elections not due to any security reasons, as they will never be secure as long as the LTTE is there, but for some other purpose. TULF is of the opinion that if the provincial councils are freshly constituted, then they cannot be dissolved for a year from the date on which the council meets for the first time, and it would be a hindrance to the establishment of the regional councils as envisaged in the G. L. – Nelan constitution. This implies that the TULF is opposed to PC elections at any time and that they will be contented only with the regional councils.

After the working committee of the UNP decided to oppose the postponement of the PC elections unconditionally why did the leader of the party declare that they would support the move if the government gave an assurance that the presidential elections would be held before November. We were under the impression that even the UNP is now for the abolition of the executive presidency, and as such, the UNP should help the government only if it is prepared to present an amendment to the constitution to bring back the executive power to the parliament. The leader can always say that his intention was to win the presidential election and then amend the constitution accordingly! But what would happen if he were to lose the presidential election. Even with Mr. Ratwatte’s security there is no guarantee that the UNP will win at all the future elections. In any case can anybody believe in the assurances given by the President, who promised to abolish the executive presidency, by July 1995?

Then what about the President herself? She accepted the "challenge" of the leader of the opposition. She, who gave an assurance at the last presidential election that the executive presidency would be abolished within a year, was contemplating of having another presidential election before next June.

Why did the leader of the opposition all of a sudden, after the meeting of the working committee of the UNP, bring the executive presidency into the picture? What is the logic behind, in posing that as an alternative to the PC elections? Did he consider it as an impediment to the government proposal of postponing the PC elections? The government wants to postpone the PC elections, if possible, with the support of the UNP and it appears that the leader of the opposition could not make up his mind.

It is said that the government can postpone the PC elections under emergency regulations. It may be possible to do so as the elections to the PC’s are governed by a separate act of the parliament and are not stipulated in the constitution. This however means that the President will have to invoke the public security ordinance in the whole island. Even then it is debatable whether the government can meddle with the franchise of the people which is guaranteed by the constitution.

The government can say that the "war" is more important than the elections, and while an important operation is going on elections should be postponed. There is some truth in that remark if not for the fact that it is a Raigampalean statement. There is no war in the country now, as there was no war during the period 1987-90 when the JVP took up arms against the state. The LTTE has taken up arms against the state and it is the foremost duty of the government to protect the state by defeating the LTTE militarily. Certainly defeating the LTTE is more important than many other things such as tamashas and ceremonies with Mr. Charles Windsor as the chief guest. However the government should neither use operations of the army to postpone elections or the victories of the army to win elections. If the government is contemplating to postpone elections, with the idea of going to polls with a victory in an operation, then it is nothing but political opportunism of the worst order.

On the other hand the government cannot postpone a presidential election or a parliamentary election under emergency regulations, as the procedures adopted in such cases are stipulated in the constitution. The articles 31 and 70 of the constitution deal respectively with the presidential and parliamentary elections. It is evident that even with an emergency situation these elections have to be held. The presidential elections in 1988 and the parliamentary elections in 1989 were held when the security situation of the country was at low ebb.

The article 70(7) on summoning a Parliament already dissolved, for the purpose of ratifying a proclamation invoking the public security ordinance, further clarifies the matter. "If at any time after the dissolution of Parliament, the President is satisfied that an emergency has arisen of such a nature that an earlier meeting of Parliament is necessary, he may by proclamation summon the Parliament which has been dissolved to meet on a date not less than three days from the date of such proclamation and such Parliament shall stand dissolved upon the termination of the emergency or the conclusion of the General Election, whichever is earlier." This means that emergency can be declared even after the parliament is dissolved, but that the emergency regulations cannot be used to postpone the elections.

The question can be asked if parliamentary and presidential elections can be held, even under emergency situations when adequate security cannot be provided, why cannot PC elections be held under such conditions. Is the government trying to blackmail the opposition by telling them that it cannot be held responsible if there is intimidation and malpractices at the elections?

From the above it is clear that neither the UNP nor the PA wants any election right now. The leaderships may be having different reasons or may be having even the same reason as the TULF for moving towards a postponement of the PC elections. This government is being kept in power by those with vested interests only with one objective. They want the government to "devolve" more and more power to the east and the north. The postponement of the PC elections and keeping the executive presidency is in the interests of the TULF as well as the PA and the UNP. Those who are totally against the provincial councils, can campaign in favour of PC elections (not PC’s), at least for the purpose of using the elections as a platform to campaign against the PC’s.