As reported in the media, the clarion call for a national Govt. has again come on stage. It may be political rhetoric, but we as peace-seeking, civic-minded citizens yearn to see an end to this distorted system of confrontational politics and see it replaced by a system of consensual politics; a system that breeds no political rivalry; a system that is fair and equitable and also a system that is cost-effective and productive enough to deliver a peaceful and a prosperous Sri Lanka.
At the outset it must be stated that civil society should form the nucleus of any effort to formulate a system of Governance that best suits our country. Politicians can only be facilitators who can take up proposals from the civil society for discussion and recommendation at an appropriate parliamentary select/advisory committee followed by approval by the Parliament and if necessary, by the people in keeping with the Constitution.
This article is based on the following fundamental principles to achieve the aforesaid civilian objective.
1) The very concept of electing representatives to the national Legislature or the Parliament through voter franchise, demands that the system be fundamentally ‘fair and equitable’. For this purpose, one should recognize that every valid vote cast by a person at an election is given an equal value, whether it is cast in the South, North, East or the West. Ideally, the entire country should be voting as one electorate in order to elect representatives proportionately from the contesting parties to the Central Parliament. The voter decisions shall be mainly based on the national policy framework (Manifesto) put forward by the respective contesting parties to develop and manage the country as a whole. Under the First-past-the-post or the Westminster system, the MPs were elected by the people voting from small, unequally populated electorates which distorted the equal value of the vote and the overall aspirations of the nation. The 1970 and 1977 election results which glaringly exposed the shortcomings of that system, paved the way for a much better and a fairer Proportionate Representation (PR) system. However, that too has been subverted by annexing the Preference Voting (PV) system. Further, the opportunity given to MPs to ‘cross –over’ due to a Court decision has led to a mockery of the voter franchise and made the tedious election process a meaningless exercise in futility! It must be borne in mind that through the ‘Party list’ mechanism, the original PR system envisaged to prevent any half-way changes in the balance of power through so called ‘back stabbing’ by MPs who decide to betray their voters mainly for personal reasons and kick-backs.
"In the first place, voting is not mandatory resulting in a large percentage of unpolled votes and in the second place, the decision of the voters spanning an age limit of 18 to 80 cannot be construed as logical and intelligent all the time! Thus, it is very much evident in Sri Lanka as well as in other countries that if the non-voting and the rejected votes are reckoned, the final result would be overwhelmingly reversed"
2) Under the PR system, the much larger District is the electoral unit. In hindsight, no voting system can be perfect, for in the first place, voting is not mandatory, resulting in a large percentage of unpolled votes and in the second place, the decision of the voters spanning an age limit of 18 to 80 cannot be construed as logical and intelligent all the time! Thus, it is very much evident in Sri Lanka as well as in other countries that if the non-voting and the rejected votes are reckoned, the final result would be overwhelmingly reversed. In other words, the real verdict of the people can be different from the outcome! The original PR system attempted to make it as ‘fair and equitable’ as possible by having additional mechanisms such as Bonus seats, Party list system and National list system. It must be repeated that only a pure, PR system can sustain the equal value of all votes throughout a given period, as every vote is represented at final level. Consequently, it mitigates the existing ‘Confrontational’ attitude amongst voters and politicians.
"Civil society should form the nucleus of any effort to formulate a system of Governance that best suits our country. Politicians can only be facilitators who can take up proposals from the civil society for discussion and recommendation at an appropriate parliamentary select /advisory committee"
3) In my view, it is after putting a ‘fair and equitable’ voting system in place, that we should discuss the structure or the type of governance that we desire to have. Having understood the fairness and the advantages of the most democratic PR system and also recognizing the existing decentralized political administration system (Provincial Councils, Municipalities, Pradeshiya sabhas) already in place,I exhort on the new Govt.to take the following steps constitutionally in order to form a National Govt.as this is the ideal time for such transition and it should not be missed.
1) Abolish the Preference voting system at Parliamentary and Provincial Council (PC) elections.
2) Re-introduce the ‘Party list’ system which was an integral part of the original PR system, to Parliamentary and PC elections.
3) Seal all types of loopholes that enable ‘Cross-overs’which are in contravention of the spirit of the PR system. The sovereignty and the collective –conscience of the voter are plundered by this unethical phenomenon which seeks to justify the conscience of paid individuals who are elected by the people (Stake-holders) to manage the country on their behalf.
4) Constitutional provision to be made for all contesting parties to legally register their policy Manifestos on the nomination date in order that they can be contested in Courts for non-implementation. This is a sine-qua –non as the voter decision has to be guided mainly by the Party policies enshrined in their respective manifestos.
5) Constitutional provision to be made for an ‘All Party’ Cabinet of 29 parliamentary members to be formed by applying the same PR arithmetic now being used to select National list MPs.The Executive President should hold only the Portfolio of National Security and Defence. He would appoint the other Ministers consensually. By this method, the PR system brings about a permanent ‘WIN-WIN’ situation where all citizens including the politicians would forget their party rivalries after the elections and forge ahead as one truly Democratic Nation.Since our broad economic, social, cultural and foreign policies are now very much in place, we would at most be electing the party who in our opinion can more effectively steer the country forward, through an ‘all-party’ Cabinet of Ministers. The inclusion of the TNA in the Cabinet will help to remove the perpetual suspicion they harbour about a so-called ‘Sinhala Govt.’ The entire election process would then turn out to be a routine, 06 yearly, peaceful exercise, sans fan-fare and extravaganza which an emerging country like ours can ill afford.
6) Amend or remove all the publicly known obnoxious provisions, governing the present executive presidency system starting from judicial immunity.
7) Fix the time period including the month for holding future Presidential and Parliamentary elections. A cost reduction can also be achieved by having both Presidential and Parliamentary elections on the same day.
Last but not the least, if the concept of running the Executive Presidency, Legislature and the Judiciary as three independent institutions is to be implemented in its true spirit, the Presidential elections should be contested by non-political, independent candidates qualifying under a specific set of criteria. The ‘preference vote’ made available at Presidential elections becomes meaningful only when the candidates are independent.
We as concerned, peace-loving citizens hope that sanity would prevail and the new Govt. would capture this golden opportunity of making ‘Consensual Politics’ a reality by effecting the aforesaid constitutional changes before holding the next Parliamentary elections.