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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Elections to Municipal Councils, Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas: How the new system will work

The Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill was finally passed by parliament last week. This is undoubtedly one of the most positive legislative steps taken by the government in recent times. This heralds a partial return to the first past the post electoral system that we had in this country more than three decades ago. There was a groundswell of opinion in the country that the electoral system should be changed to eliminate preference vote wars between candidates of the same political party. With the new laws what we will now have is a hybrid system with 70% of the representatives being elected on the first past the post system and 30% on the proportional representation system. This will be a completely new system for this country and the way it will work is this:

1. In the first instance, all local authorities – municipal councils, urban councils, and pradeshiya sabhas will be divided into ‘wards’ by a delimitation committee.

2. The delimitation committee can at their discretion create multi-member wards as well where this is deemed necessary to ensure the adequate representation of ethnic or religious minorities living in that ward.

3. Other than the candidates nominated for each individual ward in a given local authority area, a number of candidates equal to 30% of the number of wards in a given local authority will also be named in the nomination list.

4. The candidates nominated for the wards will be elected on the first past the post principle with the candidate of the party getting the highest number of votes in the ward being declared elected.

5. After the winners in each ward are declared elected, the candidates to be elected on the proportion of votes received by the various political parties will be decided as follows:

a) The votes received by the candidates already declared elected to the wards will be subtracted from the total number of votes received by their political parties.

b) Then the votes received by candidates who got less than 5% of the valid votes cast in his ward will be subtracted from the total polled by his political party.

c) The candidates who are neither winners nor abject losers in terms of (a) and (b) above, will be called ‘balance candidates’.

d) The total number of votes received by the ‘balance candidates’ of each political party will then be added together and divided by the number of seats left in that local authority. (The seats remaining other than those of the wards) The resulting figure will be known as the ‘qualifying number’.

e) The total number of votes received by the ‘balance candidates’ of each political party will be divided by this ‘qualifying number’ to determine how many seats should go to a political party in terms of proportional representation.

f) If a seat is left after apportioning in the above manner, it will go to the party that has the highest fraction in terms of (d) above.

g) It will be the secretary of each political party who will decide which candidates in the nomination paper for a given local authority, will be appointed as members of the local authority on the number of proportional representation slots won by that political party.

6. It should be noted that even though there is a proportional representation nomination list for every local authority, the candidates on this list will not be competing against one another for votes. In fact there will be nothing called a ‘preference vote’. The party candidates who contest in the wards, will be getting the party vote in that ward. It will not be a preference vote for him as there will be no other candidate from the same party in that ward.

7. The nominees on the proportional representation list in each ward need not worry about the order in which their names appear on the nomination list. The party secretary has complete authority over who will get the proportional representation seats the party is entitled to.

8. It will be noted that according to this system, the nominees on the proportional representation list for each local authority will be secondary candidates. The main candidates of every political party will be those contesting the wards. These are the frontline troops. It is the vote catching abilities of these frontline candidates that will determine the total number of votes received by that political party and hence the number of seats it is entitled to under the proportional representation system as well.

9. The question is, what will happen to the party candidates in each ward who play a frontline role for the party but who fail to get elected? The votes brought in by such individuals will go a long way to determining the total aggregate received by that political party in that local authority and hence the number of seats they are entitled to under the proportional representation system. Will the hard work done by them be enjoyed by someone on the proportional representation list who has done nothing to deserve a seat?

The answer to that question lies in section 46(8) of the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act which says that the party secretary will have the discretion to appoint ANYONE from among the names listed in the nomination paper to fill the slots won on the proportional representation system. Thus the party secretary can in fact appoint defeated candidates who contested the wards but could not make it in the first round. In the model nomination paper given as the first schedule of this Act, it is the candidates to the wards who are referred to as ‘candidates’. The others who are supposed to come in as representatives under the proportional representation system are referred to as ‘additional persons’. So that seems to indicate that those who contest the wards will be the central characters and even if they lose in their ward, that will not be the end of the world as their party can nominate them to the slots won on the proportional representation system.

10. If a vacancy occurs in the local authority, the party secretary can nominate someone from the list of candidates on the nomination paper or if there is no such individual left, he can nominate someone from outside to that vacancy.

11. If a political party gets a clear majority of the seats in a local authority, the secretary of that political party has the power to nominate a mayor and deputy mayor for that local authority. If however, some party is unable to secure a clear majority of seats in that local authority, the mayor and deputy mayor will have to be elected by the elected members. In such cases, the voting will be open and no secret ballot will be allowed.

12. One of the biggest sources of instability at the local government level is when budgets of local authorities are defeated. This can happen due to infighting among members even when one political party has an overwhelming number of seats in a local authority. The answer given to that in section 66B(3) is that if a local authority budget is defeated twice consecutively, the local authority will stand dissolved and the Minister of Local Government will appoint a commissioner to run that local authority for the rest of its term. This provision will act as a deterrent as both sides will stand to lose if they take petty enmities too far.



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