the voter loses
The last lot of the 2006 local government elections
originally planned for March was held yesterday to some of the more
important Councils such as the Colombo and Galle Municipalities.
Yet as the results come in, one is left with the nagging thought
of whether it's just a change of pillows for the same headache.
The fact that the pillows must change goes without
saying but there is much more to be done to cure the headache of
local government in this country.
For starters, the system of electing one's representative
to these councils is in urgent need of reform. How many voters had
any idea about the background or credentials of the candidates whom
they were voting for yesterday, or at the previous elections in
The utter confusion caused by a twisted law that
disqualifies the entire list of a political party merely because
of a 'technical error' relating to one man on that list, did not
help - in the 20 councils contested yesterday.
Undoubtedly, the law must be interpreted by the
Courts the way it is, but when the law is an ass, the legislators
had better do something about it.
The opposition UNP complains that this happened
before - in the 2002 elections. Then both sides of the political
spectrum were the victims of this law that disqualifies an entire
set of candidates if one candidate's qualifications are in question.
But nothing was done to rectify this glaring anomaly in the democratic
process and now, it has happened to both main parties once again.
And, probably, nothing will be done in the future to rectify it
The other issue is the need to re-introduce the
ward-member system into local government elections. The very concept
of local government is that it is representative government at the
'grassroots'. But what earthly use is it if the voter does not know
his representative and if that representative is going to enter
the council by the some part-fair; part-unfair proportional representation
While there is some justification in continuing
with at least part of the proportional representation system for
Parliament, because the total vote must reflect the will of the
entire country; this does not augur well for a system based essentially
on 'grassroots' representation, which deals with a citizen's basic
amenities and his immediate environment.
If a voter does not know who his or her local
council representative is, then he or she might as well opt for
a Special Commissioner to run the Council. Such a Special Commissioner,
as has been the case in the past, might even make a darn sight better
job of it than the elected representatives who over the years have
done everything in their power to break the council's own laws,
dispensing political favours in return for rewards in cash and kind.
They have been hand-in-glove with council staff
in approving unauthorised constructions, passing illegal building
plans and getting certificates of conformity issued for all the
wrong reasons. It would be better, therefore, so much better in
fact, to either have a Special Commissioner, provided he or she
is honest and hardworking and can run a council without the pressures
faced by politicians to do the wrong thing.
The alternative would be to have a proper representative
What we have is neither; just a halfway house
that is breeding corruption faster than mosquitoes.
We have repeatedly referred to this, but it would
seem that nowadays shouting oneself hoarse is the only way to penetrate
the thick skins of the powers-that-be. We have also supported the
need to inject more finances to local councils, because of the importance
of their work in making the day-to-day lives of ordinary citizens
And we have suggested that one way of channeling
funds to these councils is by getting rid of the thoroughly inept
white elephants that are the Provincial Councils. Readers might
recall that the ruling party of today - backed by the JVP - vehemently
opposed the PCs when this system was introduced in 1987 but now
seems quite comfortable with the opportunities it affords their
party-men at the public's expense while benefiting from its largesse.
And so, today will be the day, political parties
and their respective leadership will be doing their post-mortems;
some licking their wounds, others crowing about their successes.
But whether there were any victories for the voter is another matter.
Going by yesterday's voter turnout, the indications
are that election fatigue and voter apathy are at their nadir. There
is no doubt that the possibility that elections can make any change
to the lives of the citizens is being seriously questioned by the
It is very much the duty of the Central Government
to give these councils the encouragement and support to serve the
citizen better. But if one is to go by the way the Central Government
itself is being run, there would be much to be desired in this aspect