Changes made to laws governing Local Government Elections

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A slew of changes to laws governing local government elections have been passed in the National Assembly and will be enforced in time for the polls later this year.

The Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2018 was tabled by Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan; the Government side of the House voted down amendments made by the Opposition to the same Bill on Monday.

It amends six related pieces of legislation: the Municipal and District Councils Act, the Local Government Act, the Local Authorities (Elections) Act, the Local Democratic Organs Act, the Local Authorities (Elections) Amendment Act and the Election Laws (Amendment) Act.

Among other things, the law outlines a clear process on steps to take in the event there is a tie of votes in the election of a mayor or chairperson.

Basically, if there is a tie, then the overseer would have the councilors vote again up to three times and if there is still a tie, the new law outlines a formula to be used in selecting a chairperson or mayor.

“The final option provided for under clauses 2(c), 3 and 5 (of the Act) is similar to the procedure under article 177(3) of the Constitution relating to the drawing of a lot to resolve the difficulty from a tie,” the explanatory memorandum outlines.

At the last local government elections, there was a tie at the level of a municipality and several Neighbourhood Democratic Councils; Minister Bulkan intervened and appointed a person of his choice to serve as the mayor and chairpersons.

This was, however, in contravention of the existing laws which provide for a by-election in the event of a tie. After which, if there is still a tie, the Minister can intervene to make his appointment.

Parliamentarian Anil Nandlall was quick to make this point when he rose to share his views on the proposed changes brought by Minister Bulkan to the laws governing local government elections.

Basically, all the parliamentarians, including the Parliamentary Opposition, support the amendments to the laws.

But Opposition Member Zulfikar Mustapha wanted a few additional changes to the laws to make it more unambiguous. He wanted to put in strict timelines for which the overseer must adhere to in the event of a tie or as the law states “equality of votes”.

But the amendments were not allowed to be debated by the House Speaker.

Minister Bulkan said the changes to the laws are designed to promote local governance and achieve efficiency and cost savings to the treasury.

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