Voter-education essential before ‘mixed-cabinet’ governance
By Bernard Fernando
These days so much is talked and written about in the mass media on the formation of a ‘National Government’. Many segments in society including religious leaders, academics, professionals, ordinary people and some politicians who have the country at heart, have voiced their opinions. However, the foundations in the establishment of a National Government and its benefits to the country have still not been explained adequately to the voter that has resulted in a great diversity of views expressed on the matter.
In order to bring about a National Govt. we as citizens who wish peace, progress and sanity among the people of this country, wholeheartedly advocate the simple method of applying the Proportionate Representation (PR) arithmetic to determine the composition of the Cabinet of Ministers as well. It is by far, the most democratic and logical method that renders a fair value to every vote cast at a general election whether it is for the winning party or a losing party. In other words, every voter shall become a winner when an ‘All-party Cabinet’ is formed.
The only other change required would be to re-attach the original ‘party list’ method to the existing PR system and jettison the much detested Preferential Voting (PV) system. Of course, a constitutional amendment should also be made to seal all kinds of ‘cross-overs’ that cause half way changes in the balance of power in the central and the provincial parliaments.
A mixed voting system-why?
In our view, there is no need to introduce the complex mixed voting system recommended by the ‘Dinesh Gunawardena Committee’, as the 225 Parliamentarians at the centre, are purely required to be the law makers and handlers of the finances of the country as a whole.Therefore, it is the primary duty of the contesting parties to field their best team comprising lawyers, accountants, economists and relevant professionals in merit order (party list) who can best implement the part policies [in governance]. In this manner the parties will be compelled to leave out any ‘bad eggs’ if they want to win the confidence and muster more votes from the people. It is high time that the people and the political pundits admit that, with the implementation of the decentralised political administration system through provincial councils (1987) and local govt. bodies such as municipalities, urban Councils and pradeshiya sabahs, the people would need to approach or if at all, need to know the local politicians at the periphery. With modern communication technology in place, even such visits to the local politicians can become redundant if we strive for good governance and an efficient bureaucracy as it is in developed countries.
We now wish to justify and enumerate the benefits and some implementation aspects of extending the PR system to the Cabinet in order to bring about a consensus among the public and the law makers of our country.
Justification and benefits
a) What we need today is not a clear winner or a loser, but an executive Cabinet of efficient ministers (irrespective of their party differences) whose knowledge, ideas and expertise could be cross-fertilised to produce well thought out policy decisions in order to deliver a vibrant economy and an environment for peaceful living to the citizens of our country. Since both the governing party and the main opposition espouse a liberal economic policy and a genuine urge towards solving the ethnic problem, we cannot foresee any fundamental disagreements in a mixed Cabinet.
In fact this phenomenon is now fast becoming a reality.
b) When all major political parties are responsible for Cabinet decisions, it will naturally put an end to vituperative politics and deep-rooted political hatred among rival politicians and their party supporters. This political rivalry and polarisation seemingly justifying a so called stable govt.’ has been the bane of our country since Independence.
c) All members of Parliament too would be compelled to contribute their mite in a more constructive manner as none of them can shun responsibility by giving excuses such as ‘we are not in the ruling party’, or ‘we are powerless being in the opposition’!
d) All voters will feel that they are fairly and reasonably represented in the government. Presently they are represented only up to the level of Parliament through district MPs. Why cannot they be represented in the executive structure of the Cabinet as well? Ironically, under the existing system, it is clearly seen that around 40% of the voters (main opposition) are not represented at all in the executive Cabinet, whereas parties which muster less than 6% of the national electorate have the bargaining power to demand ministerial portfolios and other political appointments of their choice.
Although it may appear to be a measure of political generosity towards the minority parties, it is our view that we should be fair before we are generous. This fairness can be legally brought about by extending the PR system to the Cabinet.
e) When the system is constitutionally changed in this manner, no political party should feel shy to take over ministerial portfolios, as it would be their legitimate right than a favour accorded by the ruling party. Nor will the winning party be required to bargain with minority parties offering undue favours.
Some implementation aspects
a) Since the term National Govt. has generated certain parochial, nationalistic overtones, it is suggested that the proposal goes before the public under the label Peoples’ Govt. so that the minorities will feel more comfortable.
b) The number of cabinet portfolios should be laid down constitutionally. Based on past experience of the country and the corresponding costs, it is desirable to keep the number of cabinet portfolios within 31, including the portfolio of National Security and Defence which should be the prerogative of the Executive President.
c) A bonus cabinet portfolio should be allocated to the party commanding the largest single majority in Parliament.
d) Thereafter, the balance number of portfolios (in this instance 29) should be apportioned among the eligible parties using the same PR arithmetic applied for electing the members of the national list. In this manner it would be seen that the minority parties will obtain a reasonable representation in the Cabinet too, thus allaying their fears of suppression by the majority.
e) The choice of the finance portfolio and the prime minister should rest compulsorily with the majority party in order to be fair by them.
f) Balance Cabinet portfolios could be selected on an alternate basis through consensus.
The above proposal we agree is not 100% fine tuned, but any sensible citizen who has the country at heart will agree that it is beneficial for the country than the existing system of unilateral appointments to the Cabinet by the Executive President which in turn renders immense controlling powers to one person.
It is admitted that not withstanding this proposal, the much talked about dilutions in the powers of the Executive President should be effected forthwith. If the people and the law makers of our country can view this proposal for a ‘People’s Govt’ in the above context, then we can boast of another ‘first’ of having gifted to the world, the most democratic system of governance! Other countries, in particular those harping on good governance, and five-star democracies would then want to adopt the ‘Sri Lankan’ model and not a mix of the ‘Westminster’ and the ‘German’ model in the future!