Gazette establishing councils postponed to March 20

The Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister has asked the Elections Commission to ‘order’ rather than ‘appeal’ to political parties to appoint women through their lists to complete the quota.This was in a bid to break the deadlock over the 25 percent quota for women in many local councils.

The gazette establishing the councils have been postponed to March 20, Minister Faiszer Musthapha said on the request of the Elections Commission and the current situation with the quota.

“We have informed the Elections Commission in writing that the quota should be protected and as a government, we are committed to the quota and are bound to protect it, Minister Musthapha said, addressing a discussion held with women’s organizations at the ministry yesterday.

Forty four women’s organizations around the country have written to the minister asking that the government ensure that the quota be protected.

Women and Media Collective, Executive Director, Dr Sepali Kottegoda who addressed the discussion, pointed out that their discussions with the Elections Commission had led them to believe that fulfilling the quota was purely in the hands of the political parties and that it would happen only if they decreed so.

In reply, the minister explained, “All political parties are legally bound to protect the quota and if they ignore that responsibility, I ask that the Elections Commission to direct them to do it”.

The people believe that these parties will keep to the quota and if the parties do not do so, they are in breach of the mandate given to them, he added.

Establishing the quota however, has had significant practical issues in several councils where minor parties have scored 20 percent or less of the vote. Councils especially in the North and East where there were several campaigns asking that people not to vote for women, have been badly affected by this issue - with many not being able to be set up.

For these councils, the Minister said he would have to hold discussions with the Elections Commission and find the best possible solution to implement the quota and if not possible, they would have to look into legal means to amend the structure of the Act to establish the councils.

“This has been a victory for women despite the shortcomings”, said Minister Musthapha.

When asked whether the quota would also be introduced into the Provincial and Parliamentary electoral system however, the minister was of the opinion that a quota only in local government was sufficient, “Before we implement it in the Provincial Councils, we have to see how workable it is at the local government level. We already have problems here, we don’t want to mess up all three”, he said.

“First take what you are given”, added the Minister who believed that the local government elections was a good starting point for women who wished to go further.

The Minister together with the women’s organizations` also proposed that a five member committee comprising of women from these organizations be appointed to look into the problems in the quota and the issues that women faced during the local government elections.