After a heated election campaign, Sri Lanka is going to polls of Saturday for all of its 341 local government bodies. This election is happening after a two-year delay due to the implementation of the mixed-member proportional (MMP) system and the subsequent need for a new delimitation of electoral wards.
In the local polls, which will elect 8375 councilors, according to Sri Lanka’s Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, there are 24 municipal councils, 41 urban councils and 275 pradeshiya sabhas, the legislative bodies that preside over the third-tier municipalities in the country.
The present MMP electoral system will have sixty percent of the seats elected through the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system and forty percent elected through a proportional representation (PR) system. The election will also witness 25 percent women’s quota for the first time, a crucial success for a long struggle by women’s rights activists in the country. Currently women make up only two percent of local government posts even though more than fifty-one percent of registered voters are women.
The present local body election is litmus test for the performance of the unity government of President Maithripala Sirisena and his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Sirisena who took office in 2015 in the first transition since the end of civil war in 2009 had promised to take the country out of corruption, nepotism and centralization of power that had marked the rule of his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa. He had also promised to address the grievances of the Tamil population that had blamed Rajapaksa for not fulfilling the promise of reconciliation.
Sirisena faces strong opposition from Rajapaksa in the election.
Alan Keenan, the Sri Lanka project director for the International Crisis Group, said, “how Mr. Sirisena’s wing of the party does in the local votes would determine whether he refocused on his promised reforms or embraced Mr. Rajapaksa again.”
Massive security deployment has been put in place in the country for the elections. According to the police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara, around 500 individuals, including dozens of candidates have been arrested for violating election laws.
He further noted that at least 183 cases related to violations of election law and 610 cases regarding election complaints having been reported.