TNA urges PM to put off NE local polls

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 11 September 2002, 16:00 GMT]
The Tamil National Alliance Wednesday urged Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to postpone elections to local government bodies in the northeast scheduled to be held on 25 September. The polls were postponed in March this year upon a request by the TNA that the situation was not conducive at the time. The Elections Commission said last week that the polls to the local authorities will have to be held as scheduled unless the law is amended.

However, the delegation of TNA MPs led by Mr. Sampanthan that met the Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe in the parliamentary complex Wednesday told him there is provision in the Elections Law to put off the polls for the local authorities in the northeast province.

"We have pointed out to the Prime Minister that the Commissioner is empowered to put off the poll for a later date under the existing law without bringing an amendment to the Election Ordinance", Mr. R. Sampanthan, leader of the Tamil National Alliance parliamentary group, told the TamilNet after the meeting.

Mr. Sampanthan said that there is no time for the government to bring an amendment to the election ordinance to postpone the northeast polls.

He said that the Prime Minister's response was very positive to the TNA request for a postponement of local elections.

TNA sources expressed optimism after meeting the PM that local government polls in northeast would be postponed.

The TNA delegation cited many reasons for the postponement of the poll. They told the Prime Minister “it is inappropriate to hold local government elections in the northeast province as scheduled at a time when the government and the LTTE are to attend Thailand peace talks.”

The TNA wants the elections postponed because mainly because it bungled nominations in March, mainly in the east due to sheer apathy in preparing the lists of candidates.

Tamil political sources said that elections to the local bodies have to be held according to nominations lists accepted by the commissioner of elections in March. This would mean the inevitable victory of the EPDP, PLOTE and the EPRLF Varatharajaperumal faction in more than six local bodies in the east. In March the EPRLF Varatharajaperumal faction and the EPDP were elected uncontested to two local bodies in the east.

Countering the TNA’s reasons, an elections official argued: “The elections cannot be postponed again because the Emergency Regulations are no longer in force. The Minister for Local government has to amend the election law with a simple majority in Parliament to cancel the polls”.

“This would certainly upset the political balance in the Northeast sought by the TNA”, Tamil political sources said. “The TNA will find it difficult to cohabit at the grass roots level with local bodies controlled by groups which they had marginalized at the December general elections”, they added.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, meanwhile, insists the elections to the local bodies should be held on 25 September as scheduled.

Addressing a meeting in Oluvil last month, the SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem said that his party would leave the UNF government if it does not hold the local government polls as scheduled on September 25.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress feels that control of as many local government bodies as possible in the northeast would strengthen its doubly strengthen its position within the interim administration which it hopes to share with the LTTE.

“The UNF needs to resolve the issue quickly with the TNA and the SLMC before it begins negotiations with the LTTE in Thailand – if it has not done so already”, said a TNA leader.

The government postponed elections to the local bodies, including the Batticaloa and Kalmunai Municipal councils and the Urban councils of Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Kattandkudy in March this year following representations made by the Tamil National Alliance.

The TNA’s nominations lists for the Trincomalee UC and eight Pradheshiya Sabhas in the Batticaloa district and one in Ampara due to last minute bungling.

As a consequence of the TNA’s nomination lists being rejected, the EPRLF’s Varatharajaperumal faction was elected uncontested to the Porathivu P.S, the administrative area of which lies in the LTTE controlled part of the Batticaloa district.

Similarly, the EPDP was elected uncontested to the Alaiyadivembu Pradheshiya Sabha following the rejection of the TNA’s nomination list. An independent group back by the SLMC was also elected uncontested to the Eravur town P.S.

If elections are not cancelled there will be eight local government bodies in the east, including the Trincomalee UC, that wouldn’t be under the TNA.

This would be an impediment to the smooth functioning of the proposed interim administration, according to the TNA. The Tigers accuse the EPRLF’s Varatharajaperumal faction and the EPDP of working with the armed forces against Tamil interests.

“Control over the local government bodies and access to local level development funds will be exploited by the anti-LTTE groups to build pockets of political and other influence in areas dominated by the Tigers, leading to erosion the grass roots level confidence building measures. This is actually why we are urging the government to cancel the polls”, TNA sources said.

There are 3 P.S in Kilinochchi, 4 in Mannar and 4 in Vavuniya. There are ten P.S in the Batticaloa district – two are Muslim dominated. The TNA’s nominations were accepted only for the Vavunathivu P.S and the Ariyampathi P.S.

There are 14 P.S, a Municipal Council and a Urban Council in the Amparai district. Elections have been held to the Ampara UC and the Sinhala majority P. S of Damana, Namal Oya, Uhana, Dehiyatta Kandiya, Lahugala, Maha Oya and Padiyatalawa. The commissioner of elections can hold polls for each local body independently as it constitutes a separate electoral unit similar to an electoral district in elections to Parliament.

The government suspended elected local government bodies under the Emergency Regulations from 1983 to 1994. Elections to local bodies were held first in March 1994 in the east amidst charges of mass rigging by groups working with the armed forces.

Elections to local bodies in Jaffna were held after 15 years in 1998.

The TULF filed nominations only for the Jaffna Municipal Council and the Valigamam North Pradheshiya Sabha, saying that armed groups such as the EPDP and the PLOTE were a threat to supporters and potential candidates in other areas. The term of the local government bodies in Jaffna ended early this year. The UNF government extended it by an year. There are 12 PS, 1 MC and 3 UCs in Jaffna.


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