It seems that elections are to be held shortly. The UNP has been calling for elections and so are the others now. However, the loudly promised and widely publicised electoral reforms during President Maithripala Sirisena’s election campaign, hangs on a thread. Today it is ‘elections with or without electoral reforms’, i.e. with or without the much talked of 20th Amendment to the Constitution.
It was all supposed to happen within the first 100 days of the Maithripala Sirisena presidency. Unforeseen or else known but not said developments derailed the reform project. The 100th day came and went. The new Government is yet to deliver on the key reform parts of the manifesto. The one good thing about the 100th day being passed is that the Government no longer has to deal with the political equivalent of what is referred to in cricketing circles as ‘scoreboard pressure’. No one is counting days any more. It is almost as if the people also knew that 100 days would not be enough. Patience on this count should not however be taken for granted. That too can lapse.
The only cogent argument for ‘elections with or without the 20th’ is the uncertainty of the current political situation. There’s confusion about who is in power and who is not. There’s the unexpected, defying-all-odds and increasingly significant rise in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s popularity. Clarity in the political arena is clearly needed at this moment. An election, it can be argued, would deliver us from confusion.
However, is that reason enough to: a) not to go ahead with the 20th and b) not to hold elections under the new rules which would become relevant if the 20th is passed? Perhaps an example might illustrate the importance of holding elections POST-reform and under a new system.
Let’s suppose there’s a company that makes cars. Let us assume that while the car has a dashing name, a lovely colour and can get you from Point A to Point B. Let us assume however that there’s some serious flaw in the design which makes the car jerk uncontrollably for a couple of minutes. Let’s assume that this happens on average five times every 100 kms and that it’s totally random.
Now, let’s assume that the particular automobile company decides to re-design the car, correcting the irritating flaw which can and perhaps has caused serious accidents quite apart from the bumpy rides for those who were unfortunate enough to travel in it.
So a set of engineers get together, pour over all the elements of the design, identify all the structural flaws and come up with a set of answers. They re-design.
What if one of the directors say ‘Ok, you’ve done a great job, but let’s do one final production run of the old design and put out the new machine say five years from now’? Should not such a suggestion be responded to with cries of ‘you must be out of your blooming mind!’?
The only thing that ought to justify delay is the delays in the designing and production processes. These are inevitable. Unlike a car, in the case of constitutional reform, bickering over the holding of an election could scuttle the 20th for good, especially if elections are held without seeing it through. Getting a two-thirds majority would be really difficult.
However, there’s absolutely no justification for holding back a new model or having the design in hand, not doing anything about it for several years and letting the old model chug along in fits and starts, causing accidents and making for a tough ride for everyone.
Electoral reform is talked about simply because the current system was a failure. Using a failed model to elect the inevitably flawed representatives that a flawed model can generate and having these predictably ‘imperfects’ making decisions for 4-5 years is not worthwhile. It is doubtful that anyone who envisaged ‘electoral reform’ when he or she voted for President Sirisena will go along with that kind of flawed logic!
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