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Election Commission in a quandary

Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya. Picture by Siripala Halwala

The Election Commission is to ask that the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act No 22 of 2012 to be amended to allow councils to be established even without the mandatory 25 percent quota under special circumstances.

Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya addressing the media, said the Commission was in a quandary between abiding by tenets of natural justice and applying the letter of the law.

These circumstances occur when political parties cannot appoint the set number of female candidates according to law due to having an overhang and cannot choose female candidates from the additional list to make up numbers.

At present local government bodies which do not complete their 25 percent quota cannot establish a council. There are over 21 councils which have three or more seats as overhangs at present.

At present local government bodies which especially have an overhang of three or more seats have the issue of the majority party not being able to appoint their assigned quota of women into the council, thus assigning responsibility of fulfilling the quota to the other parties.

The Commission was expected to hold a meeting with party leaders to discuss ways in which to resolve the present issue yesterday.

“In the Ambalangoda Municipal Council, there are 20 members and according to the 25 percent quota, we should have five women appointed. The SLPP won the Council, and according to proportional representation system, they were assigned nine seats but there was an overhang so they got 10 seats. In addition, the UNP won seven seats, UPFA three and JVP 1.

When it came to the women’s quota, SLPP had to appoint two women, UNP 2 and the UPFA 1 but the SLPP only had one woman winning the seat and they cannot choose another female candidate from the additional list as they already have won an extra seat. This means that their other female candidate should come from either the UNP or UPFA seats in order to fulfill the overall 25 percent quota of women in the council. This seems rather unfair,” Deshapriya said.

In a similar case in the Dickwella Pradeshiya Sabha, the SLPP received one extra seat through the overhang and only one of their female candidates won though their quota was two. Here seven women need to be appointed to fulfill the quota. The UNP here won seven seats, SLFP two and the JVP two.This means that the remaining six would have to come from the UNP.

“When we asked the Attorney General (AG), they asked us to work according to the Act, but the Commission’s conscience is greater than the Act. We need to implement the law but what happens to those candidates who have contested and won? Do we ask them to resign? Do we put the burden of making the numbers to the other parties?” Deshapriya asked.

“We informed the AG’s Department that this issue will crop up when they were amending the Act but they said that we are speaking of extreme situations, he added.

If all 25 percent of female candidates had contested instead of the 10 percent, Deshapriya was of the view that more women would have won seats and they would not have to face the present situation.