A citizen’s recommendations for electoral reforms based on principles of good overnance
Arising from my recent presentation to the ‘Public Committee on Constitutional Reforms, I wish to summarise my recommendations and benefits accruing to the country through electoral reforms.
1) Given a decentralised political administration system of governance, it is imperative to rationalize the number of MPs (225) through a proper work study based on well-defined objectives and role responsibilities. Examples from countries in the region need to be taken into account in order to constitutionalise a formula of 01 MP for ‘X’ number of registered voters. In our view even the present 225 is an unproductive assemblage.
2) MPs’ salaries and perks should be recommended by an independent committee comprising productivity and work study experts. If this happened before, the tax-payer would have saved the enormous financial burdens arising from the present guarantee of a 5 -year pension and duty free vehicles for MPs. The MPs colluding to increase their own salaries and perks is tantamount to a ‘conflict of interest’
3) Since MPs in Parliament are at the top of the administration ‘pyramid’, there is no need for them to collect preference votes; they should not be allocated ‘decentralised funds’. On the contrary, they should monitor the usage and recommend the allocation and release of decentralised funds to the lower layers at provincial council and pradeshiya sabha levels. The existing monitoring mechanism through district development committees should be reviewed to facilitate a ‘bottom-up’ approach.
4) The present decentralised political admin. structure should be strengthened by reviewing and specifically laying down the responsibilities and limits for the respective layers in the pyramid viz. Parliament, PCs and PSs. In our view, there is a need to reduce the powers of MPs who are mainly ‘law-makers’ and transfer them to the PCs and PSs which in the process should get more mileage from the media as they are closer to the public.
5) PSs should be depoliticised allowing the people to elect the most acceptable/respectable persons with high integrity in the locality. Such people only can be groomed to enter Parliament.
6) Election Process
a) The primary and the most critical need at a national election process is to determine the winner and the number of seats won by each party or alliance out of a specified number of seats in Parliament. It can be guaranteed only by applying proportionate arithmetic to the total valid national vote where the entire country is regarded as one electorate ensuring an equal value for all votes. This will obviate the need for laborious delimitation exercises before the election.
b) Next is the less critical geographical allocation of seats won by each party or alliance to Parliament. It can be proportionately done district wise and the number of votes mustered by each party/alliance.
c) Nominating individuals to each such allocated seat within each district can be based district wise nomination lists publicised by each party/alliance. Presently, this list is furnished in alphabetical order to cover 196 seats. For good governance and logical purposes, this list needs to be seen by the voter in order of merit so that he will get an idea of the calibre and the quality of the persons who are likely to represent him in Parliament. The real objective of the ‘national list ‘(29) too can be achieved by including those nominations also in the district lists so that there will be one master- nomination list of professionals by each party/alliance sub-divided under 22 districts. This will obviate the need for a ‘preferential-voting’ mechanism and the sole responsibility of selecting professional nominees will fully devolve on the respective parties/alliances and not on the voter. As a result, the ballot paper will carry only party/alliance symbols and the Elections Dept. will have less work in the counting process enabling the people to know election results before midnight.
7) In a modern representative democracy the voter expects the political parties to be corporate bodies with the ability to produce powerful manifestos and pragmatic action plans for the party/alliance as well as possessing the clout to select and deal with its nominees under a well-designed system of good governance and transparent mechanisms. The voter will take into account the quality and character of such nominees who have to drive such action plans in the event of victory. With this district professional merit list in place, the ‘cross-over’ mockery will also die a natural death as in the event of death/ resignation/expulsion of an MP, the next person in the merit list has to be automatically appointed. This in fact was the original mechanism laid down under JR‘s Constitution till it got subverted by the present ‘preference voting method’.
8) Since the ‘election manifesto’ becomes a critical document for voter decision, it has to be made a legally enforceable document.
9) To reach the zenith of ‘good-governance‘, apply PR arithmetic to allocate Cabinet portfolios the number of which(30) is already specified by the Constitution, so that all seat winning parties will be represented in the Cabinet. This will ensure Cabinet portfolios to smaller parties like the TNA and the JVP and in the process answer the promised ‘+’component of the much maligned 13th Amendment which has become irreversible due to its international implications.
10) The present provision for Parliament to increase the number of Cabinet portfolio at will should be replaced with a specific limit of say + or - 5 of the constitutionally specified number which presently stands at 30.
11) ‘Good governance’ demands that the President acts as a ‘statesman’ cum ‘caretaker ‘ of the people devoid of political hues, ethnicity and religion. Accordingly, he should refrain from any kind of party politics during the term of his office.
For a few power-hungry and corrupt politicians, the above measures elicit a paradigm shift in their approach and attitudes. On the other hand, the voters also should change their attitudes and refrain from approaching any national level MP to solve their local problems. This change of attitude will automatically happen if the Govt. ensures ‘Yahapalanaya’ in the most important public institutions viz. the Police Service, the Judiciary and the Govt. service. In extreme circumstances, a voter may approach a local PC or a PS member to get relief. However it must be noted that under ‘Yahapalanaya’ political interference is taboo.
It will be seen that if all the aforesaid measures are implemented they will reduce unnecessary waste of time, material and energy by politicians and the people. It will also increase productivity and dispense with a tremendous work load at the Elections Dept. allowing the country to develop in harmony without confrontational politics.