I am constrained to give my comments on the Article published in the press by Asoka Obeyesekera titled ‘Electoral reform - MMP the only game in town’
At the outset, Sri Lanka being a very small developing country, it is befitting to have a simple electoral system that maximizes its human capital in the most productive manner. Unfortunately, we are already burdened with a colossal political administration structure though not fully of our own making. There are 4486 politicized Local Govt members and 455 Provincial Council (PC) members at the grass roots level. At the apex of the Pyramid is the Central Parliament comprising 225 Members (MPs). There is one MP for every two PC members. Is it productive? We must remember that on top of it all, there is a powerful Executive President with a huge Secretariat. The solution to the increasing population is not to boost up the number of MPs at the centre which is already ‘Top-heavy’, but to empower the 4941 strong peripheral PC members and Local Govt members with more financial allocations and assign to them the grass-roots level electorates and ‘Grama-Niladhari’ Divisions. On this basis, the voters would have around 25 local politicians serving each of the
Responsibilities of MPs
Thus, under the existing very wide decentralized political Administration structure as mentioned above, the sole responsibility of the 225 MPs at the Centre should naturally get narrowed down to; framing and approving Country’s laws and policies, approving and monitoring the National Budget and financials and handling National Level Infrastructure Projects. Visiting voters in the electorates to attend to local problems and needs should be the function of peripheral politicians viz. Provincial Councillors and Local Govt members. This is the very objective of a Decentralized Administration system under a ‘Bottom-up approach. The abolition of the ‘Preferential Voting (PV) system’ would no doubt cause such visits by aspiring MPs absolutely redundant. In such a scenario, there is no earthly need to duplicate functions by assigning electorates to MPs at the centre who should on the contrary be residing in close proximity to Diyawannawa to perform their aforesaid sacred role. Perhaps, they could monitor their District activities against National Budget allocations to the periphery by participating in District Administration Committee Meetings. Also, we must bear in mind that under a system of ‘Good Governance’, the practice of going behind politicians seeking undue favours through MP’s ‘Chits’ should not arise. Indeed what was envisaged under the original District Nomination system was to discourage the ‘MP Chit’ system and save the MPs from political stooges and henchmen seeking undue patronage leading to corruption and bribery. What is needed is to enhance the efficiency and productivity of the ‘Public service’, the Police and the Judiciary by the passage of people supportive laws by the Parliament. Moreover, the Govt machinery should get motivated after the recent salary increases!
On the other hand, how many MPs perform their primary duty of attending Parliamentary sessions faithfully? Numerous are the occasions where the sessions had to be postponed due to lack of chorum resulting in negative productivity. In such a situation how can we justify an increase in the number of heads in the Parliament? It is a crime to compel the hard-pressed tax payer to bear such enormous expenditure without any positive return. Pertinent it is to mention that MPs qualify for a life-long Pension by merely marking 5 years, whereas a public servant has to toil for more than 30 to 35 years to get entitled to this privilege.
A simple solution
While denouncing the efforts of some narrow-minded politicians to increase their ‘Lot’ in the guise of assigning an MP for each electorate through a ‘Mixed voting system’ we, as tax payers and sovereign voters, wish to propose the following simple electoral reforms, based on the foregoing logic, without increasing the existing number of MPs.
1) Abolish ‘Preferential Voting (PV) System’ and conduct General Elections as usual.
2) Total the nation-wide votes obtained under each party /alliance symbol.
3) Compute the percentage of votes obtained by each such party against the total number of valid votes cast at the election.
4) Determine the number of seats (out of 225) won under each party symbol according to their voter percentage.
What has been done under the above 4 steps is to treat every vote across the country as of equal value and distribute the 225 seats based on total vote percentage obtained by each party. This is by far the most fair, accurate and democratic representation of people in the Parliament. What is noteworthy is, the entire Nation is regarded as one electorate, as the main objective is to elect members to the National Parliament at the centre. Therefore, the issue of delimitation exercise doesn’t arise under this proposal and the elections could be held at any time after the reforms are approved.
The steps to be taken as aforesaid are illustrated in the following table.
Party / Alliance Symbol
( 1 ) Country-wide Votes obtained,
( 2 ) Country-wide percentage obtained,
( 3 ) Maximum number of seats entitled,
( 4 )‘A’ 5,400,000 - 45% - 101
‘B’ 5,100,000 - 42.5% - 96
‘C’ 900,000 - 7.5% - 17
‘D’ 400,000 - 3.3% - 07
‘E’ 200,000 - 1.7% - 04
Total 12,000,000 - 100.00% - 225
NOTE : It is noted that smaller parties would get their due recognition. However, if there is an absolute need to discourage proliferation of smaller parties, a minimum cut off-point say 2% may be imposed and the allocation of seats could be done excluding the votes obtained by disqualifying parties.
5) The next step is to identify MPs to fill the 225 seats allocated as above. It is futile to expect 12 million voters to screen these 225 people for their credentials as hitherto done under the PV system. Obviously, the onus should be shifted to the respective political parties who have been hitherto nominating their candidates on a District-wise basis though using adhoc and biased criteria. The requirement to adopt a new set of very stringent selection criteria in terms of the recently presented ‘Code of Ethics for Nominations’ by PAFFREL accepted by all parties is the much sought change in political culture that is imperative for the success of any exercise of Electoral Reform. In our view, it should also include a clause to prevent the disgusting ‘Cross-overs’ by MPs. Nonetheless, the ‘Cross-over’ phenomenon must be sealed constitutionally as otherwise the entire Election process would become a meaningless mockery in the eyes of the sovereign voter. Thus, it is critical under this proposal for the contesting parties to select and nominate their most efficient, reliable and suitable national team who can implement their respective ‘party manifesto’ to the satisfaction of the voter and the country on a District-merit basis.
6) At this juncture, we propose to dispense with the existing National list of 29 members and allow the parties to include their names too in the main Party list thereby converting the entire Party list to one ‘National list’ presented on a District, merit-basis. As a result, all parties could technically nominate 225 National candidates though it is not practical for smaller parties to do so. To meet situations arising from premature deaths or other unavoidable circumstances, we propose that each District list be allowed 3 extra nominations at the bottom.
7) Preparation of the District-wise Party nomination in the order of merit would facilitate the voter to give due consideration to the quality of the candidates too when deciding on his vote. Further, it would allow the parties to select the best candidates from such merit list, in a transparent manner. It is noteworthy that the JVP adopted this method even under the ’Preferential Voting’ system.
8) However, the most critical factor for voter decision should be the ‘Party Manifesto’ which should be distributed among the voters together with the island-wide nomination list, scheduled under each District well in advance of the election. Since the Party Manifesto is the ‘vote’ governing document, it must be made legally enforceable through electoral reforms.
The aforesaid recommendations were placed in person by the writer before the Public Constitutional Reforms Committee which was a step in the right direction and they were published in the press too. In our view, the said Committee report should receive the primary attention of the Parliament Constitutional reforms Committee as the people are sovereign and the Government should be “by the people, for the people.”
It is reiterated that a team of 225 honest, efficient, decent, ethical and morally rich professionals with the country at heart would be elected to Parliament; provided the contesting parties/alliances adopt a robust, transparent system to select their candidates in a professional manner.
It would be seen that issues such as high campaign costs and election violence highlighted by Asoka Obeyesekere too could be ameliorated under this proposed system.
This ‘paradigm shift’ in our political culture is imperative and already seen to be happening where two or more sides would finally maintain a ‘Consensual relationship’ rather than a ‘confrontational stance’ to achieve the common objective of developing the country and its people under a system of ‘Good Governance’. In such a scenario, phrases such as ‘Hung Parliament’ and ‘Stable Govt’ would become irrelevant, misnomers.
PR system to be extended to the Cabinet
Finally, we wish to propose that the fixed number of seats in the Cabinet also be allocated in the aforesaid proportionate manner so that the sovereign voter and small parties like TNA and JVP too would be represented at all levels of Governance, thereby, creating a true ‘People’s Govt.’Moreover, it provides the solution to our internationalized ‘13+’ issue by justifying the ‘+’ component.
We earnestly appeal to all fair-minded citizens, civil organizations and politicians to work towards these electoral reforms to ensure a simple, fair and equitable and a productive system of Governance in Sri Lanka which could be a model for other countries.
(The writer is a retired Deputy General Manager - Bank of Ceylon)