The proposed 20th Amendment to the constitution seeks to amend the law relating to elections to the provincial councils to ensure that these are held on a single day and not on an ad hoc basis.
The government has explained that this would lead to a reduction in the costs of elections and give more stability to governance. While the government is entitled to hold these views, and to prioritise these matters, the National Peace Council notes some features of the proposed amendment that contain disturbing elements.
The proposed law can lead to the postponement of elections to those provincial councils whose terms of office lapse early. Three provincial councils have their terms ending by October of this year. Some provincial councils, on the other hand, will have their terms continue until 2019. The proposed law vests the power to administer provincial councils whose terms have ended with the central authorities until such time as elections are held.
The design of the provincial councils was a result of the quest for a political solution to the ethnic conflict and was meant to ensure political autonomy and self rule on a limited basis to the provinces. The provincial council system was originally established in 1987 to deal with the escalating war against the Tamil militancy led by the LTTE. The democratic Tamil parties have sought to utilize it to as a building block to progress to a greater sharing of power while functioning within the existing unitary constitutional framework.
In this context, tampering with the provincial councils, by postponing the elections to them, and by further reducing their devolved powers even temporarily, needs to be viewed with the utmost concern. The provision in the 20th Amendment to vest governance of a provincial council whose term has ended in the central authorities is violative of the basic principle of devolution of power. The National Peace Council calls on the government to desist from the passage of the 20th Amendment to the constitution in its present form.