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EC has nothing to do with criterion for woman representation in LG bodies - Mahinda Deshapriya

2018-03-07 01:58:37
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Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, in an interview with Daily Mirror, speaks about the current electoral system and its consequences in the aftermath of the elections to the local authorities. Excerpts of the interview:   

 


  • EC insisted that cut-off point should be reduced to 3.5, not abolished 
  • Otherwise, it will amount to deliberate postponement of elections
  • Cut-off point and bonus ensured stable administration in past
  • Steps should be taken to conduct PC Polls after May 31 at least
  • Both abolished under new system
  • Yet, EC cannot criticize Acts
  • New LG election system has both merits and demerits

 

Q What is your view on the new election system?
It is a system having both merits and demerits. But, it is not appropriate for the Election Commission to criticize an electoral system signed into law by Parliament. We are only entrusted with the task to conduct elections in conformity with whatever law applicable.   

The essence of proportional representation is that it attaches value to each vote cast. We have been able to achieve this objective this time. Alongside, the new system ensured that each electoral ward returned a member representing the people. 

This is what people expect- to elect someone directly answerable to them. That objective has also been achieved. The new system is an amalgamation of two different electoral methods. When the two contrasting systems are merged into one, there may be down-slides. One may argue that the new system is flawed and therefore we should revert back to the First Past the Post system in total. Or else, it may be argued that we should reintroduce the proportional representation rather

than having a mix of both. Yet, I believe we should look at it with a free and open mind.   
At the January 8 election, people voted for President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the two main contenders. They advocated a mixed system in their manifestos.    In the Act introduced in 2012, there was a mix of the ward system and proportional representation. It is a method used in one state in Germany. Now, we have a Mixed Member Proportional Representation System. In such a system, we get what we call overhang.   

The new system is an amalgamation of two different electoral methods. When the two contrasting systems are merged into one, there may be down-slides. One may argue that the new system is flawed and therefore we should revert back to the First Past the Post system in total

Q There is a huge question mark over the criteria adopted to ensure woman representation. What is your view?
We cannot force 14 local authorities to have the mandatory 25% woman representation because of the present law. If you look at the Kotagala Pradeshiiya Sabha in the Nuwara-Eliya district, there should be four woman representatives. The Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), as the largest party, had won seven seats, six from the electoral wards and one from the list under proportional representation. It means the CWC can nominate only one. The CWC is supposed to reserve two slots for woman representatives. But, it can nominate only from the list as per the Act. The UNP can nominate two women. Still there are only three – one from the CWC and two from the UNP. Yet, the local body should have four women.   

In Manmunai Pattru Pradeshiya Sabha, no woman representative could be nominated at all. As for Point Pedro in Jaffna, there should be five woman representatives.  

Q There is an issue that it is difficult for a party to get an absolute majority to form administration in most cases. What is your view? 
In this system, there is no bonus seat offered to the party polling the highest number of seats. Also, there is no cut-off point. In many countries where the mixed system is in practice, they have not been considerate about absolute majority.

They have been mindful of forming coalition administrations rather than giving one party sole authority. They are not worried about absolute majority for stable administration. Earlier, we had both the bonus system and the cut off point for the election of members in our election law. Then, the party polling the highest number of votes could have nominated bonus seats. It enabled them to appoint the chairman and the mayors to their local bodies as a result.   
However, I, as the Chairman of the Election Commission, cannot compare and contrast the merits and demerits of either system. The Commission can never decline to conduct elections citing flaws in the laws brought about by Parliament. People of this country wanted to express themselves at an election. The Commission only facilitated it.   

We cannot force 14 local authorities to have the mandatory 25% woman representation because of the present law. If you look at the Kotagala Pradeshiiya Sabha in the Nuwara-Eliya district, there should be four woman representatives

Q You participated in discussions on the introduction of this new electoral system. Did you raise such possible problems arising out of it?
The Election Commission insisted that at least there should be a cut-off point of 3.5%.   

Q What about the bonus seats?
We wanted to retain either the bonus seat or the cut-off point. We did not harbour any opinion about stable administration. At that time, we made representations to such discussions as the Election Department. Under the old system, there was a cut-off point of five percent. We only said it should be reduced to 3.5%. We never said it should be abrogated in total.   

In the world, there are mixed systems which do not have both bonus seats and cut-off points. Such countries have been considerate about forming coalition administrations. In Germany, they have introduced such system because of their bitter experience in giving sole authority to a single party in history. That is what I have heard.   

There is a provision that the parties polling less than 20% and getting less than three members elected are compulsorily required to nominate woman representatives. All the parties agreed to this provision at that time

Q How do you try to resolve the issues at hand after the election was over?
We have an issue regarding woman representation. If somebody is opposed to woman representation, it will lead to a major crisis. We have nothing to do with it. Under the new law, there are instances where a single party is supposed to fill the total number of slots for woman representatives in a particular council. The Election Commission has nothing to do with it.   

We have received requests from some parties to change the system as otherwise it will affect their political activities. 

We cannot do anything in this regard. Only Parliament can amend laws. Yet, we pointed out flaws.   

There is a provision that the parties polling less than 20% and getting less than three members elected are compulsorily required to nominate woman representatives.
 All the parties agreed to this provision at that time.   

I, as the Chairman of the Election Commission, cannot compare and contrast the merits and demerits of either system. The Commission can never decline to conduct elections citing flaws in the laws brought about by Parliament. People of this country wanted to express themselves at an election. The Commission only facilitated it

Q There are complaints that there were discrepancies in the calculation of the number of members elected this time. Some parties say they have been denied their due number of slots as a result. What is your response?
There was a request made to the Election Commission by a political party. We considered the method adopted in the calculation of the number of members. We had a special meeting. We took unanimous decision that our methodology was correct. We stand by it. We are supposed to determine it, and we do it.   

Q There are now talks about the need to revert back to the old system of Proportional Representation in conducting the elections to the Provincial Councils. How do you see this? 
We have nothing to do. We were getting ready to call for nominations for the provincial council elections on October 2, 2017. Then, the Act was amended changing the electoral system. We could not conduct the elections as a result. At that moment, it was said the elections could be conducted by March, this year. A delimitation committee was appointed. It was assigned to give the report in four months. The committee worked out the report. They did not hand over it before February 1- because it was an election time. They handed over it on February 19. Within 14 days from that day, the subject minister should present it to Parliament to be approved by two-thirds. Unless it is approved, the Prime Minister should appoint a committee. That committee should give a report within two months. It will be the delimitation report to be considered for the elections.   

We believe the entire process will be over by May 31, this year. If the elections cannot be conducted to the three Provincial Councils standing dissolved after May 31, it would amount to the deliberate postponement of elections. We believe the political parties with parliamentary representation and the government will leave no room 
for such assumption.   

It is against the principles of democratic norms to postpone elections.   

We believe the entire process will be over by May 31, this year. If the elections cannot be conducted to the three Provincial Councils standing dissolved after May 31, it would amount to the deliberate postponement of elections. We believe the political parties with parliamentary representation and the government will leave no room for such assumption

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, democracy is one of the universal core values and principles of the United Nations. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage are essential elements of democracy.   

According to it, the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will and shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.  


  Comments - 1

  • WMFernando Friday, 9 March 2018 10:10

    Present system is a !00% proportional and it is supported by overhang. Please look in to the calculation of number of seats for each party/group. 60% and 40% was a lie.

    Reply : 0       0

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