President and Premier reach agreement
Provincial polls on April 28, Next general elections - 168 seats under first-past-the post system , Party leaders meet today to finalise matters

By Ravi Ladduwahetty
Published January 22nd 2004 in Daily Mirror

Rekindling hopes for renewed cohabitation, President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, during yesterday's cabinet meeting, reached consensus on a number of issues including changes in the electoral system and agreed to hold provincial polls on April 28.

The latest move to hold provincial polls on the date agreed ends speculation of a snap general election as earlier demanded by the JVP which signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the SLFP on Tuesday.

Authoritative sources said the proposal to hold the Provincial Council polls on April 28 was made by Premier Wickremesinghe at yesterday's meeting that lasted half an hour and was chaired by President Kumaratunga who skipped cabinet after November 4, 2003 when she took over three key portfolios including defence, interior and mass communications.

Analysts said the latest moves offered renewed hope to end the political stalemate that lasted since November 4, affecting the current peace process and the chances of resuming talks with the LTTE.

The date of the provincial polls would be discussed at the party leaders' meeting to be held today (22) and a final decision taken. The contention of the government has been to complete the polls and the results by May 1, the sources added. Premier Wickremesinghe and Power and Energy Minister Karu Jayasuriya pointed out that the counting of ballots and the announcement of the results could be completed before May 1 if the polls are held on April 28.

The government will bring in the Amendments to the Provincial Council Act in Parliament on February 3 to conduct the polls for all the councils on the same day, the sources said. President Kumaratunga and the cabinet also agreed to hold the next parliamentary polls according to new electoral reforms for which there was agreement.

These sources told the Daily Mirror that President Kumaratunga and the Government had both decided to hold the next Parliamentary polls under a hybrid of the first past-the-post and the proportional representation systems.

The President and Cabinet agreed to have 168 MPs elected from the first-past the post system and the remainder from the PR system but the Dinesh Gunawardena Committee’s proposal to increase the number of seats in Parliament from 225 to 280 failed to receive the nod of the Government.

There was discussion on the basis of electing Members and a final decision on whether they were going to be elected under PR at a district or at national level was yet to be reached. There was also discussion on the percentage to be allocated for MPs from the minority communities whether it be 5% or 12% of the total.

The Amendments to the Provincial Council Act will also include the shortening of the time period between nominations and elections, the sources said. The present laws require the Chief Minster's approval for the dissolution of the Provincial Council on a date prior to the specified date.