Sri Lanka Brief Update/ 05 Feb 2018: Sri Lanka Local Authority Election 2018: Stats, Actors, Issues and Prospects .
- Local authority elections will be held on the 10th February 2018, in the 341 Local Authorities of Sri Lanka (that consists of 24 municipal councils, 41 urban councils and 276 divisional councils). 15.8 million Sri Lankans are eligible to vote at this election and 8293 (or more) members are expected to be elected to run the councils for the next 4 years.
- Elections will be held under the recently reformed electoral system, whereby 60% of the members will be elected according to the first-past-the-post system and the remaining 40%, through closed list proportional representation.
- Under the new electoral system, a minimum of 10% and 50% of total candidates must be female, respectively, under the first nomination paper and the additional nomination paper. The amended Local Authorities Election Act mandates that at least 25% of members in each local authority consists of women.
- The previous local authority election was held in 2011 and this is the first election held after the 2015 presidential and general elections in which the incumbent president Rajapaksa was defeated by the common opposition candidate Maitripala Sirisena.
- Four national parties are contesting countrywide; namely Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by President Sirisena, United National Party (UNP) led by PM Wickremasinghe, Sri Lanka Freedom Peoples Front (SLPF) led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and People’s Liberation Front (JVP) led by Anura Kumara Dissanayake.
- In the Northern Province where Tamil people make up the majority, Tamil National Alliance, which has dominated North- East electoral politics for years, is confronted by two alliances; namely the TULF- EPRLF combination and Tamil Civil Society Forum.
- In the Eastern Province, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress which has traditionally dominated Muslim politics is challenged by Sri Lankan People’s Congress of Minister Rishard Bathurdeen and SLMC’s former General Secretary Hassen Ali. Eastern Province has roughly equal number of Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese populations and therefore, the TNA as well as mainstream political parties based in the South too, are contesting.
- Many other numerically smaller political groups and independent groups also have entered the play.
- Although local authorities are supposed to address issues on the ground locally, almost all campaigns of South-based mainstream political parties are exclusively based on national issues. Political corruption occupies a central place in the election campaigns.
- President Sirisena has taken the anti-corruption campaign as his party’s main slogan and his foremost mission. The President continues to attack his coalition partner PM Wickremasinhe and his former leader Rajapaksa, over allegations of large scale corruption. Sirisena has openly accused PM Wickremasinghe and the UNP of purposely delaying legal action against former president Rajapaksa and former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
- PM Wickremasinghe is campaigning for economic development and ‘taking the country forward’. Some of the party loyalists of UNP are asking for a mandate to form an UNP-only government. PM Wickremasinghe has refrained from attacking his coalition partner, President Sirisena and has assured that regardless of the outcome of this election, the UNP will be governing the country till the next general election in 2020.
- Former president Rajapaksa has taken up the issues of defending war victory and war heroes and corruption of the present government. The coalition he leads, calls on the voters to make Rajapaksa the PM.
- Tamil National Alliance demands that the Government enacts a new constitution within this year and campaigns on transitional justice issues. The TNA continues to defend its relationship with the Government.
- Although this local authority election has become a national level political contest, the issues of democracy, human rights and accountability are completely lost in the Sinhala majority Southern discourse. Anti-corruption drive dominates the platforms which were anti-Rajapaksa – good governance platforms in 2015.
- In the North, election campaigns are based on much delayed reconciliation, accountability and Transitional Justice process. Opponents accuse the TNA of betraying Tamil aspirations to Sirisena – Wickremasinghe government.
- UNP led by PM Wickemasinge is expected to win majority seats of the councils in the South, as the voter base of its main and traditional opponent SLFP has been divided. Wherever UNP fails to obtain absolute majority of the seats, there is a possibility of Sirisena and Rajapaksa groups coming together to form councils. UNP and PM Wicremasinghe’s image has been considerably damaged due to the Central Bank Bond scam. UNP has, to some extent, been able to galvanise its traditional voter base to counteract President Sirisena’s attacks.
- Meanwhile, PM Wickremasinghe has emerged as the most diplomatic campaigner, promising not to break the coalition with President Sirisena and work together to strengthen national peace and reconciliation.
- SLPF led by the former president Rajapaksa has gained considerable popularity in some areas of the South, mainly due to Rajapaksa’s war victory politics. SLPF has been able to attract large crowds and is expected to do well in the Southern Province.
- President Sirisena and his party started the electoral campaign at number 03, but lately, the campaign led by Sirisena has made some headway. SLFP led by Sirisena is also expected to do well in some areas, like, Colombo and the suburbs, Uva and North Central Province.
- If SLFP led by Sirisena obtains more votes and wards than the Rakapaksa led SLPF, Sirisena will be in a strong position to bargain with its major coalition partner UNP and see the end of Rajapaksa’s attempt to make a comeback. If the reverse occurs, Sirisena will be faced with an uphill task to command the SLFP as defections may take place.
- JVP has received considerable sympathy from the politically active middle class. However, due to its dogmatic politics, it has not been able to become a national level alternative. If the JVP obtains over 8% of votes nationally, it will be able to expand its political base. So far it’s vote based has remained around 5%.
- TNA needs to obtain a clear majority in the number of votes received and wards it captures to continue its critical collaboration with the Government. Anti-TNA groups have failed to come forward as one front, leaving TNA the best choice for Tamil people.
- Support for Sri Lanka Muslim Congress will be weakened as Sri Lankan People’s Congress led by Minister Rishard Bathurdeen & SLMC’s former General Secretary Hassen Ali will eat in to the traditional SLMC vote base.
- In any case, this local authority election will leave the coalition government weakened from within and outside. The developing political situation may adversely affect the transitional justice and constitutional reform process. There will be a strong push for accountability on large scale corruption and the Rajapaksa camp will be facing the brunt of it.
- After the 10th February 2018, political configurations in Sri Lanka will change drastically causing the emergence of a new balance of forces.
Sri Lanka Brief Update: Local Authorities Election 2018: Stats, Actors, Issues & Prospects
Compiled by Sunanda Deshapriya ; Edited by Uda Deshapriya