Uncertainty over the postponement of local government elections continues to grow. Recent statements by government leaders and debates in parliament show them openly expressing the view that elections at this time would not be conducive to either economic growth or advantageous to them, and so ought not to be held. This follows the postponement of local government elections scheduled for March 9 due to the failure of the government treasury to release the required funds for the elections. It is important that government departments should cooperate with the Election Commission when it has declared elections as mandated by the Constitution.
Two landmark rulings of the Supreme Court have sent a clear message to the country at large that the elections should take place without delay. The National Peace Council is particularly distressed at the open calls being made within parliament to government departments to disregard the court orders on the grounds that they breach parliamentary privilege. The open questioning and mockery of democratic processes by government members that is taking place at all levels was not expected under the leadership of so experienced a parliamentarian as President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The sovereignty of the people, and their right to elect their representatives at all levels of government through free and fair elections, and respect for the judiciary, constitute the foundations of democracy. The failure to uphold the rule of law and the system of checks and balances would severely undermine democracy, the country’s international credibility and the national interest. NPC appeals to the government to expedite the electoral process by heeding the decisions of the Supreme Court and abide by the new date of April 25 as set by the Election Commission for the local government elections to be held.
The National Peace Council is heartened by the joint initiative of civil society organisations to bring the opposition political parties to one forum to uphold the principle of timely and free and fair elections and to convince the government of the need for elections. Leading representatives of all the main opposition political parties came together to sign a “Public representatives pledge to protect the right to vote” at a meeting convened by the Civil Society Collective for Protecting the Franchise. Although the political parties represented widely different ideologies and ethnic affiliations, they stood without any division on the issue of upholding the democratic franchise.
We want the government to heed the voice of the opposition parties and civil society organisations on this issue of the franchise and not be isolated as that would not be conducive to the political stability and economic recovery it seeks. The government’s development strategies require the willing cooperation of the rest of political society which is unlikely to be secured without timely elections being held as guaranteed by the Constitution. The government also needs to show respect to judicial decisions and to constitutional provisions related to the rule of law that are essential for investor confidence, both national and international, without which the prospects for economic recovery will be a chimera.
National Peace Council of Sri Lanka