With the abolition of the by-election system which was prevalent earlier, Governments have found it difficult to test their popular support as well as to gauge the thinking of the people, but with the holding of Provincial Council elections, an opportunity has arisen to get such a feed-back, said Prof. G. L. Peiris, Minister of Export Development and International Trade.
Such election results would be a clear indication of the level of people’s support for a particular policy of the Government which would invariably lead to readjustments with regard to such policies, he told a seminar for intellectuals and professionals in the Ratnapura District held at the Samudhi Hall. The seminar was held under the theme, "Responsibilities of citizens in the context of Provincial Council Elections".
Prof. Peiris noted that though the main purpose of the present Provincial Council Elections is to institute two councils in two provinces, it also serves as a barometer of popular thinking in the country. Recalling the history of the electoral process in the country, he said that since 1931 to 1977, the first-past-the-post system of elections provided opportunities to the Governments and others to test the popular will of the people through the regular holding of by-elections.
"But under the present system of Proportional Representation such opportunities do not arise. As such the present Provincial Council elections are expected to fill that void".
The present Government faced many challenges on several fronts, the Minister said. "If the people could be seen to remain steadfastly behind the Government, its resolve could be strengthened".
Recalling the SAARC Summit that was successfully concluded recently, Prof. Peiris said that among the proposals forwarded to the Summit by the President, the one on curbing of terrorism was uniquely acceptable to all. It could be mainly due to the reason that five out of eight countries in SAARC are plagued by terrorism. It was agreed to work in unison in matters relating to terrorism and to incorporate anti-terrorism legislation into the respective criminal justice systems of the member countries. Another area that the Summit looked into was the impending food crisis. Thus the Summit could be termed as a success rather that a waste of money, he explained.
Speaking on the Foreign Policy of Sri Lanka, Minister Peiris said that it’s being implemented successfully which has resulted in huge amounts of funds being channeled into the country by various foreign Governments. United States paid for the construction of the Arugam Bay bridge while Britain has made 50 million Sterling Pounds available for construction and maintenance of bridges. China too has undertaken to fund several big projects such as the Hambantota Harbour, Norochcholai Power Project, construction of highways and the establishment of a massive theatre complex in the Colombo area.
"In addition, the Iranian Government has offered funds to double the refining capacity of Sapugaskanda. This is clearly a vote of confidence on the foreign policy as pursued by the present Government".
Touching on the ethnic crisis, Prof. Peiris noted that every Government that was in office earlier offered a variety of solutions that were all rejected by the people, mainly due to a lack of synthesis between those proposals and public opinion. He said the essence of any solution to this crisis should be the devolution of power and the 13th Amendment formed the cornerstone of such a solution. But to implement such a solution, the LTTE has to be militarily weakened and that was the basis for the present military policy carried out by the Government.
With regard to the present electoral system that is based on the norm of proportional representation, and which has proved to be divisive as well as expensive and leading to massive corruption, Prof. Peiris said the Government has put forward several worthwhile suggestions for discussion.
Among those in attendance were Karunaratne Paranewithane, Chief Executive Officer, Rupavahini, Sujith Wijesinghe, Coordinating Secretary to the President, Hemasiri Jayalath, Assistant Secretary to the President, Labour Unions, Palitha Gamage, Convenor, Democratic Lawyers Forum, D. P. Mendis PC and Sunny Wijesuriya.