The SLPP-UNP government is drawing heavy flak for its efforts to reconvene the dissolved local government (LG) institutions with the previously elected representatives being reinstated so that the SLPP, which won the majority of the local councils at the last LG polls (2018), can regain its hold on the third tier of government without fresh elections.

The UNP is not likely to benefit from the government’s plan in question; although it came second in the LG elections, it lost a substantial number of its local councillors to its offshoot, the SJB, after its split in 2019. It is not yet ready for elections despite having secured the presidency under fortuitous circumstances, and therefore will be happy if the LG polls can be further postponed somehow or other so that its electoral weakness will not be exposed before the next major election. However, if the SLPP succeeds in regaining its hold on the LG bodies, it will emerge stronger and the UNP is likely to lose its bargaining power considerably. 



SLPP MP Jayantha Ketagoda has moved a private member’s bill in the parliament seeking to have the LG bodies restored and come under fire from the Opposition, and pro-democracy activists. He is obviously taking orders from the SLPP leadership.   

The Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) has condemned MP Ketagoda’s private member’s bill as undemocratic. Its position resonates with all those who cherish democracy. It says it believes that the government’s move will be a heavy blow to the people’s sovereignty enshrined in the Constitution. One cannot agree with TISL more.

TISL has said in a media statement: “Local Government (LG) Members are the grass-roots level public representatives. Regular elections are essential for the people’s mandate to be reflected in the LG authorities. In addition, this Amendment sets a bad precedent as it creates a risk of abusing the legal framework to prevent holding timely elections, including national elections. This can lead to the people losing faith in the entire democratic system in the country, with negative implications to the rule of law as well.”

The People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) has also denounced Ketagoda’s bill, which are aimed at empowering the Minister of Local Government to revive the dissolved local councils without elections.

PAFFREL Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi has warned that if the questionable Bills are adopted, the Minister in charge of local government will be able to reinstate the local councilors who are currently out of office.

The government’s attempt to restore the dissolved LG bodies is bound to be challenged in court.


The Daily Morning newspaper has quoted Commissioner General of Elections Saman Sri Ratnayake as saying that it may be possible for the parliament to legislate for the tenures of the LG bodies to be extended without elections, but that it is not ethical to do so. He has been quoted as saying, “We don’t believe that this Bill would go that far. When the people have given the power to LG members and councillors for only four years, it is not ethical to extend their tenures in this manner. Some former LG members and councillors are even candidates who have submitted nominations for the LG Elections.”

Politicians who find themselves in desperate situations are no respecters of ethics, as is public knowledge. They are driven by self-interest and nothing else. So, speculation is rife in political circles that the government will go all out to secure the passage of Ketagoda’s private member’s bill.

Elections are the foundation of representative governance, and serve as a bulwark against autocracy, while helping safeguard the rights, freedoms and interests of the public by enabling them to exercise their franchise. They are also a barometer of a nation’s democratic wellbeing. The predictability of a country’s election schedule goes a long way towards fostering public trust in the electoral process and maintaining political stability.

There has already been a considerable erosion of public faith in elections due to the postponement of elections to the Provincial Councils (PC) and the LG institutions in a deplorable manner.

The PCs have remained under the Provincial Governors for years. The UNP-led Yahapalanagovernment, not wanting to face an electoral contest, postponed the PC polls indefinitely by amending the Provincial Council Elections Act, in 2017 with the help of the JVP and the TNA. The then Joint Opposition consisting of the UPFA MPs who backed the Rajapaksa family and refused to join the Yahapalana government condemned that poll postponement, demanding that the people’s franchise be respected. Those dissident UPFA MPs subsequently joined the SLPP, which captured power, but reneged on its promise. Today, they have joined forces with the UNP to postpone the LG elections. Worse, they are now trying to reconvene the dissolved LG bodies!

Disruptions to the electoral process invariably lead to socio-political upheavals. It causes public disillusionment with representative democracy and thereby provides traction to anarchical forces. The SLFP-led United Front government abused its two-thirds majority to postpone the general election due in 1975 by two years. The UNP made the most of the situation and obtained a five-sixth majority in the parliament with the SLFP being reduced to a mere eight seats, and bulldozed its way thereafter through by making introducing a new Constitution and making a slew of bad laws, which we have had to live with all these years.

Having introduced a new Constitution and made himself the Executive, J. R. Jayewardene went so far as to do away with a general election in 1982 with the help of a heavily-rigged referendum, which caused public resentment to well up and find expression in anti-government protests. The JVP, which challenged the outcome of the referendum in court, was falsely accused of having instigated the 1983 anti-Tamil riots and proscribed. It went underground and staged its second uprising a few years later, plunging the country into a bloodbath. Thousands of lives and properties worth billions of rupees were lost due to the JVP’s spree of violence and equally ruthless counterterror operations.  


Recipe for trouble

Thus, the government’s ill-advised plan to further its political interests by reconvening the dissolved LG bodies, with no heed for the consequences of its action, is fraught with the danger of intensifying pressure in the polity and triggering political upheavals. The economy is said to be showing signs of recovery, and the government claims that it will be in positive territory towards the end of the current year. But it will be well-nigh impossible to achieve the country’s economic goals unless the political front remains free from trouble.

MP Ketagoda’s private member’s Bill aimed at enabling the SLPP to regain control of the LG bodies without elections could be considered a recipe for trouble, for it will provide the Opposition and other anti-government forces with a fresh rallying point and spark waves of protests again, jeopardizing the semblance of political stability that has come about.