The country’s experience at the Local Govt (LG) Elections held in February 2018 is nothing to be happy about. After delaying the Elections for 3 years, the outcome, under the amended Laws of 2017, left much to be desired. While the respective political parties crunched the figures to show they had made progress in winning [...]


Hold PC polls under PR system as an interim measure

Discuss electoral reforms through issue of a white paper

The country’s experience at the Local Govt (LG) Elections held in February 2018 is nothing to be happy about. After delaying the Elections for 3 years, the outcome, under the amended Laws of 2017, left much to be desired.

While the respective political parties crunched the figures to show they had made progress in winning over or, retaining the goodwill of the voters, a closer look at what was achieved, in terms of the first step at Election Reforms (ER), reveals this disastrous effort should not be repeated at future Elections.

The Provincial Council (PC) Elections, the next item on the Election Agenda, is already behind schedule. Following the example of the LG Amendment Law of 2017, the PC Election Law too, has been (hastily) amended. The Delimitation Committee (DC), appointed in accordance with the provisions of the PC Elections (Amendment) Act No 17 of 2017, has produced a Report, but there are rumblings of discontent with regard to the manner in which the DC has carved out the Electorates.

The Act provides for the DC Report to be tabled in Parliament, within 2 weeks of its receipt, by the Minister of LG & PCs, and its adoption by a two-third majority, within a month thereafter. If Parliament does not approve the Report within the time stipulated, the Speaker shall appoint a Review Committee (RC) headed by the Prime Minister, for consideration of the Report. The RC is required to submit its report to the President within two months of it being referred for its consideration by the Minister.

The RC is required to submit its Report to the President, upon receipt of which the President is required to forthwith publish it in the Gazette.

Although the DC Report has been submitted to Parliament, none of the other steps seem to have been taken. The PC Minister has often articulated the position that, once a Bill has been presented to Parliament, the concerned Minister’s task is over. In the case of the DC Report too, the Minister seems to be under the belief his task is over.

The more correct position is that, the Minister is responsible not only for the contents of the Bill, but has also to see the Bill through all its stages in Parliament and thereafter, is also responsible for the implementation and administration of the Law.

Faced with the delay in following through with the implementation of the PC Elections Amendment Law, it is best to conduct the PC Elections under the previous Proportional Representation (PR) system, as an interim measure, to prevent further delay in the conduct of the Elections. This can be achieved through a simple Amendment approved by Parliament, bringing the previous Law into operation for the limited purpose of holding the PC Elections.

Simultaneously, it would be in the National Interest to make a studied and comprehensive overhaul of the Election Laws governing all Elections so that, the mistakes of the past as well as the present (LG Elections of February 2018 ) be prevented and remedied.

Towards this objective, the Govt could issue a White Paper, setting out the intended Reforms for the different Elections and calling for the views of the political parties and the public. A definite timeline should be laid down, possibly 3 months, to translate into Law, the views of the various stakeholders.

The White Paper, while setting out the ER common to the 3 tiers of Govt, should also provide for variations in the Law, to cater to the needs of the different layers of Govt. For example, the general principle of an election result to reflect in the different shades of opinion and different interests, should be adhered to. However, the process should be somewhat varied to reflect the specific objectives that govern the different tiers.

In preparing such a White Paper, Govt should consult and obtain the views of the Election Commission, which could provide valuable insights through its long institutional memory, as well as the difficulties it faced in making sense of the new LG Election Laws.

While Parliament and, to a lesser extent, the PCs are required to debate policy and enact legislation that reflect such policy, at the LG, the delivery of services is the main focus of Local bodies. Thus the emphasis at the two upper tiers of Govt can be on political parties and their policies, while at the LG, the focus can be more on the election of capable individuals, rather than their party affiliations, as there is little or no policy considerations at that level.

This aspect of the variation in the needs of the different strands of Govt was totally missing in the recently concluded LG Elections. Although the LG ER was intended to strengthen the Ward system and improve the quality of those elected, this has only had limited success. In many cases, people still do not know who their representatives are, while there are reports of various individuals with questionable records of public conduct, being returned to office.

Another feature of the LG Election Law, as amended in 2017, that has to be reconsidered is whether there is a need to have multi-member Wards at this level. It would be better to have single member Wards, as that would encourage people at grassroot level to work together and build trust among the different communities, and to choose the best candidate, irrespective of which community he/she belonged to. This will greatly enhance and feed into the National Reconciliation process.

Besides, the experience of the February 2018 Elections showed that the very purpose for which multi-member Wards were carved out, namely to ensure that, where large concentrations of particular communities, other than the main community, lived in that area, such communities would also get representation.

This objective was defeated, both by the provisions of the Law itself and the conduct of the political parties themselves. The Law did not prescribe that the individual candidates who polled the highest number of votes (1st and 2nd in a double-member Ward ) should be elected. Instead, it postulated that both candidates of the political party which won the Ward, would be declared elected. Often, the two candidates were from the same community.

On the other hand, there were instances of political parties nominating candidates from the same community, for a multi-member Ward, which again defeats the objective of a multi-member Ward.

Another glaring omission in the LG Law is the absence of provisions to enable local leaders and influential persons to enter the fray in their individual capacity. The provision in the Law that one has to be on a list of a political party or, Independent group, discourages talented individuals from coming forward to take over responsibilities and thus, their services are lost to the country.

In hindsight, some of the provisions of the 2012 Amendment Act may be better than those of the 2017 Act. The 2012 Act provided that, in determining the number of candidates from a political party to be returned from the Additional List (that is other than from the Wards), the votes of the candidates from that political party, who had won their Wards, would be excluded, and only the votes of the candidates from that political party, who were defeated, would be taken into consideration. In contrast, the 2017 Amendment provided for taking into consideration all the votes of the winning candidates of the political party concerned, in determining the number of candidates returned from the Additional list .

This amounted to giving a double value to the votes of those who supported the winning candidates in the winning Wards, and seemed unfair.

Another unsatisfactory feature of the 2017 Law is that, it allowed some candidates who were defeated in their respective Wards, to be nominated and appointed from the Additional List. To add insult to injury, there are reports that some of those defeated candidates who were nominated from the Additional List, ended up as Chairmen or Deputy Chairmen of Local bodies.

The criticisms of the 2012 Act and the process that followed were more in relation to the delimitation of the Wards, than the Act itself. While the review of the 2012 DC Report, which took 3 years, was going on, the Ministry of LG & PCs had ample time to initiate and take steps to amend any shortcomings in the 2012 Law. Instead, it was only after the 2012 Delimitation Review process was completed, that the Ministry woke up from its slumber and passed amending legislation in haste, thus contributing to a rather chaotic scenario after the February 2018 LG Elections.

Yet another matter to be carefully considered is the proportion of the First-Past-the-Post (FPP) system to the PR system. In the 2012 Amending Law, 30% of those elected on the FPP system, was the number to be elected through the Additional List on the PR system. The 2018 LG Election Amendment Law changed it to 60% (FPP) and 40% (PR) proportion. But, for the PC Elections Amendment Law, for some unexplained reason, the proportion was changed to 50:50. The rationale for these changes are not at all clear, and it is important that it is looked into more carefully, to choose what system serves the country best.

It is to avoid a repetition of the shoddy manner the LG Elections Law and the PC Elections Law were passed in 2017 that, it is suggested in the National Interest, a White Paper is prepared on ERs, for discussion. A considered approach to ERs can greatly contribute towards changing the political culture and enhance the quality of Governance in the country.


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