Call for US style methodology for electing future presidents in SL

9 July 2020 07:39 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • In the United States, the President is not elected directly by voters, but by the Electoral College
  • Had there been a system modelled on the US Electoral College, Rajapaksa would have been elected president in 2015
  • However, the US system is under critically looked at by many in that country
  • In Sri Lanka, Yuthukama is in agreement with the US system in principle
  • People in USA have mixed feelings about this system. In fact, critics view the Electoral System as ‘stupid’

Constitutional reforms featured prominently in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in 2015. And it remains the

In 2016 despite having lost in popular vote at that election, President Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by over 2.8 million popular votes. Yet, he was elected president because he was able to muster the support of 304 electors of the Electoral College (AFP)

same this time around. But, there is a stark difference between the push for such reforms then and now.  In 2015, the United National Party (UNP) which was riding the wave of popular votes sought a mandate for greater devolution of power to the periphery. Today, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which has already won the presidential elections, is seeking a two-thirds majority in Parliament, primarily to undo   the 19th Amendment to the Constitution enacted during the Yahapalana government in 2015. 


Alongside, Yuthukama organization, a nationalist movement that laid the ideological base for the election campaign of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, advocates constitutional reforms for the change of the election system including the United States (US) style methodology of    electing the President through a body called the Electoral College. 
In the United States, the President is not elected directly by voters, but by the Electoral College which comprises electors determined for each of 50 states in that country. 


It is a body of 538 members. These electors are awarded to the winner of the popular votes within the state concerned.  The number of electors, specified for a state is, similar to the two senators plus its number of congressional house representatives. In the United States, there have been instances where the candidate who polls the largest number of popular votes isn’t sometimes elected president since if he or she cannot command the support of 270 or more electors of the Electoral College.  


Yuthukama organization has given mind to advocate such a system through constitutional reforms for the election of future Sri Lankan Presidents due to their experience in the 2015 Presidential Elections.  At the 2015 Presidential Elections, former President Maithripala Sirisena won 6.2 million votes outperforming his rival candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa who polled only 5.8 million votes. Yet Sirisena won only   fewer number of electoral districts or electorates whereas Rajapaksa clinched more of them. Had there been a system modelled on the US Electoral College, Rajapaksa would have been elected president in 2015 though he lost to Sirisena through a popular vote. 
Yuthukama organization, as a movement politically backing Rajapaksa, has constructed  its logic that voters in a few electoral districts should not have undue influence in deciding  on the winner of the presidential elections through  their numerical strength in voting en masse to one candidate. It argues that the candidate who wins the largest number of electorates should have the right to be elected president instead even though he polls less number of popular votes. 


In principle, this is similar to the method followed in the United States. It has been introduced in that country on the basis that the states with larger populations   should not be given the chance to roll over smaller states with their numerical power. 
However, the US system is critically looked at by many in that country.  The debate surfaced mainly after the election of President Donald Trump in 2016 despite having lost in popular vote. At that election, President Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by over 2.8 million popular votes. Yet, he was elected president because he was able to muster the support of 304 electors of the Electoral College, way above the required number of 270 votes. 
In the history of the United States, similar incidents had taken place on four occasions before the 2016 elections. On these occasions, the candidates were elected president despite losing popular vote:   1824 (John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson), 1876 (Rutherford B. Hayes over Samuel Tilden), 1888 (Benjamin Harrison over Grover Cleveland), and 2000 (George W. Bush over Al Gore).


People in the United States have mixed feelings about this system. In fact, critics view the Electoral System as ‘stupid’ or weird because the majority will is disregarded in the election of the Head of State on some occasions. In the case of the 2016 presidential elections, democratic voters feel disenfranchised as their candidate Hillary Clinton was not elected despite having secured more popular votes.  
However, those who support the system justify their position on the premise that the states such as California with large populations should not have undue advantage over small states.  If not for the Electoral College, candidates may concentrate only on the largely populated states   and swing states in their campaigning. This will marginalize certain communities since their votes do not matter enough in a popular vote. 


In Sri Lanka, Yuthukama is in agreement with the US system in principle; that the candidate winning the majority electorates should be chosen as president. However, it is skeptical about the formation of body in similar line with the Electoral College of the US 
In the United States, electors are supposed to vote for the candidate they are pledged to. Yet, in some states, they can freely decide who to vote.  
According to Chairman of Yuthukama Organization Gevindu Cumaratunga, such a system will leave scope for corruption – that electors can be induced through the offer of money to vote. 

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