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28th June 1998

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Front Page
Mirror Magazine

The politics of postponements

All the speculation about this elec tion and that election appears to have been nothing more than a storm in the corridors of power. Both the Government and Opposition tried to show they were ready for elections - but it seems that neither is quite ready for it.

They were just probably playing Bluff in the Card Game of Bridge or playing "Chicken."

In objective terms we need to reflect on some basic questions;

*Does the law provide for a postponement of Provincial polls because it involves the franchise of the people.

*Does the situation make it difficult to provide adequate security for free and fair polls.

Regarding a postponement, it would be prudent for the government to seek the advice of respected lawyers even if they be from outside the Attorney-General's Department.

It is evident that the Government has not been properly or adequately advised on certain legal matters in recent months. The recent Supreme Court decisions regarding the validity of certain inquiries and reports by Special Presidential Commissions prove the point.

As for the security situation it must be known that elections are paramount, we must all agree whatever the position elections are of paramount importance .

To postpone elections on the basis of a grave security situation would be a dangerous precedent.

We have had bad experiences since 1970 where governments have postponed elections on various pretexts.

In 1972 the Sirima Bandaranaike led United Front Government postponed elections by two years after introducing the new Republican Constitution. When the polls were eventually held in 1977, the United Front was swept away in an avalanche.

In 1982 President Jayewardene master minded a legal though a morally illegitimate referendum through which he got an extra term for his steam rolling 5/6th majority in Parliament.

All his problems and the country's problems started in 1983- partly for reasons connected to that unjust postponement of General Elections.

So it is clear that tinkering with the Constitution with clever legal arguments will only undo the parties that indulge in it. It is evident that Provincial Councils are not the best form of administrative bodies for devolution of power.

They were created mainly to resolve the so-called ethnic problem in 1987 in the North and East.

Now they function - at great cost to the public - everywhere except the North and East. We must either scrap PCs - or go ahead with the scheduled elections to them.

Having Provincial Councils sans elections is a meaningless exercise. This then would be an opportune moment for both the Government and the Opposition to reflect on the very existence and the future of Provincial Councils as they exist today. For whom do they exist?

Are they to be mere pocket boroughs for rural politicians to run around in Pajeros doing little besides duplicating the bureaucracy of government. Do they exist merely to gauge national opinion through a mid term poll as was seen in by-elections before 1977.

Or are we to seriously consider whether Provincial Councils by themselves are really worth their existence as instruments of devolved power.

Rather than treat them as an answer to the so-called ethnic problem, should we not formulate a new system of devolution on administrative and economic lines rather than on ethnic lines - for the betterment of a United Sri Lanka?

While the politicians prepare to hit the campaign trail hurling not only insults but probably bombs at each other spare a thought for the Provincial Council system.

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