Civil society concerned over Provincial Councils Elections Act

Local civil society have raised concerns over the passage of the Provincial Councils Elections Amendment Act.The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) said it was extremely concerned by the rushed and non-transparent process followed by the government to amend the Provincial Councils Elections Act. “This amendment Act was passed by Parliament on 20th September 2017 with the support of more than two-thirds of the Members of Parliament. Due to a substantial number of committee-stage amendments that were adopted, the Act that was passed was materially different to the Bill that was gazetted (on 10th July 2017), tabled in Parliament (on 26th July 2017), and examined by the Supreme Court. The original Bill was only to provide for a quota of 30% for female candidates on the nomination papers submitted at Provincial Council elections. However, from the information available in the public domain (CPA has not seen the final Act) the Act that was passed changes the electoral system for elections of Provincial Councils and provides for a quota of 25% for women in all Provincial Councils,” CPA said. TISL is of the position that committee stage amendments should only be made insofar as the Standing Orders of parliament permit them. The standing orders contain the rules of parliamentary procedure and conduct. Standing Order 57 mentions that “the principle of the bill shall not be discussed in committee”. In this instance, an amendment to introduce a wholly new electoral system, would at the very least require a discussion of principles. In failing to adhere to this parliamentary procedure, it would seem that the legislation has been perverted to further delay elections due to the need for delimitation.Efforts to undertake progressive reforms such as the adoption of a mixed electoral system are commendable. However the public will only find out the actual details of the new electoral system once the final Act is published. If key features like a dual ballot vote are omitted, the reforms could prove regressive. Commenting on the issue, TISL Executive Director Asoka Obeyesekere said, “This is the archetypal illustration of closed government in practice – despite the government being a member of the Open Government Partnership.”The law only allows for pre-enactment judicial review, that is before the Bill is debated in Parliament. Therefore appending key areas to a Bill in committee stage results in undermining a key check on Parliament.Obeyesekere added “this illustrates a significant democratic deficit and highlights the need to strictly adhere to parliamentary procedure and the need for post enactment judicial review.” (Colombo Gazette) However, it says the rushed manner in which these changes were made is contrary to the principle of representative democracy.Meanwhile, Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) said it was also alarmed by the lack of consultation and procedure adopted in the passage of the Provincial Councils Elections (Amendment) Act. In making substantial committee stage amendments, a key democratic check has been sidestepped as there is no opportunity to assess the constitutional conformity of the amendments. At the outset, CPA notes that changing the electoral system to a Mixed Member Proportional system and the introduction of a quota for women in Provincial Councils are both welcome changes. read more