There is the very high probability that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution would face a favourable response in the immediate future, after having given due consideration to the verdict of the Supreme Court, the constructive views of all politicians and the concerned public, who express the expectations and the pulse of the adult citizens of Sri Lanka. Quite rightly the revision of the Electoral System is expected to be tabled along with the 19th Amendment.
While indicating the basic considerations for three different options being mooted and because time is an immediate constraint, along with fair-play and the will of the people, option 111 listed below is proposed as the immediately implementable and most suitable option.
Some Basic Considerations for Electoral Reforms
Unfortunately the PR in its present form has resulted in an inevitable struggle for preferential votes and intra-party rivalry, which has on many occasions led to criminal violence and even murder. Another negative feature is that a single political party has often found it difficult to obtain a stable majority, thereby leading to alliances, which have resulted in a large Cabinet of Ministers. Each party would, quite understandably, favour a system that would promote the number of seats for the party, in the proposed mixed / “hybrid” system.
It is reckoned that an increase in the number of electorates would favour the established major parties as they are in a better position to win on the FPP, while the minorities would favour more seats allocated on a national PR basis, because that would entitle them to secure seats even though they may fail to win them on the FPP system. This is based on the understanding that the votes from all the electorates would be counted in determining the PR.
The important consideration is to promote a balanced representation of the voice of the people, as far as possible.
The main concerns focused in the present set of proposals are the need for the “First Past the Post” system, provisions for representation in Parliament on the Proportional System, and also accommodation of Independent candidates of stature and acceptance. Thus the determination should be based on both electorate and national basis.
Hence, having considered the aspects listed below, we submit three options for critique by the policy planners/makers and the public “think tank“.
Maintain the current number of seats in Parliament (225). A reader refers to these proposals to increase the number of MPs as, “25 more parliamentarians: An unwarranted, unproductive and wasteful investment”. Most of the concerned citizens would agree that the country just cannot afford this type of expenditure; “waste not, want not”; there are no pressing or valid needs or arguments for an increase.
For Option I, there is a controversy whether the next election should be held on the basis of the existing 160 electorates or whether it should be after the determination of a Delimitation Commission (DC).
One Opposition MP has quite rightly pointed out that at present, there is a wide variation / difference in the numerical strength of the electorates, varying from 170,000 to 50,000; and that this needs correction. If it is reckoned that the elections must be held without any delay, without awaiting the determination of a DC there is the option of creating multiple seats in the large electorates and maintaining the status quo of the other electorates, as a temporary measure only for the forthcoming election.
Such a proposal would increase the number of elected MPs by perhaps five or six and thereby reduce the number of MPs on the PR basis. Could this be done with a 2/3rds majority decision of Parliament? In any case, would it be prudent to do so?
Though Option I is simple and easy to implement immediately, it cannot be recommended as the ideal system; at the most it could be a temporary move to tide over the present dilemma.
Common Features in Options II & III
1. A Cabinet Minister mentioned that, in the context of the facilities now available --Google Search, etc -- a DC should be able to finish its task within a short period of time. Thus it would be prudent to await the DC report.
2. There must be the following categories of MPs, as shown below:
A) Elected MPs (on the basis of the FPP), one for each electorate.
The number of electorates (X ) would be determined by the DC according to the decision of the policy planners / makers); the number X may be 140, less or more. Decision One (of the policy makers) These elected MPs would be those who represent the constituents, “feel their pulse”, and be their “voice” in the Parliament.
Though obvious, it should be noted that a party could nominate only one candidate for each electorate.
B) The balance number (225 minus X ) would be Selected MPs, Nominated MPs, and those appointed on the basis of Bonus seats (mentioned below). The number of seats allocated to each of these three categories would have to be decided by the policy makers - Decision Two (of the policy makers)
Option II Selected MPs - Each party would be allocated a number of seats according to: a) the number of votes received throughout the country, i.e, PR, and b) Decision Two -- The party would select / choose the resultant number from those who have failed to get elected on the FPP.
As the selection of the MPs lies solely with the party hierarchy in this option, unlike in Option III, it cannot be said that this procedure reflects the “will” of the people.
Nominated MPs, Each party would nominate MPs -- as in the case of the selected group – a) according to the number of PR votes received throughout the country and b) according to Decision Two (of the policy makers)
It is suggested that these Nominated MPs should be selected mainly from only those (from a list previously announced) with expertise / eminence, or representatives of groups such as minorities. However, in the interests of the minorities who may not have been able to get some of their key members through the above categories, it is suggested, as an exception, that it would be justified to permit defeated candidates to be nominated with the stipulation that the number of such candidates does not exceed a decided number - Decision Three (of the policy makers)
Bonus Seats -- Suggest five seats -- number to be based on Decision Two -- to the party that commands a majority. This is a proposal to strengthen and promote stability of governance without the need to resort to fragile alliances and unnecessary compromises.
Option III - the option reckoned to be the most suitable and immediately implementable
While the determination of the number of seats on PR would be the same, the selection of the individual- the selected MPs - would not be by the party hierarchy as in Option II. The selection would be based on electoral acceptability, political stature, and eligibility of candidates, who though failing to “win the gold” in the race – i.e. though failing to get elected on the FPP (maybe by a few votes, sometimes) – yet has the support of a large number of the constituents. This electoral eligibility could be objectively evaluated by a score, named the E score -- a new concept in political jargon -- which is calculated as follows:
Number of votes received
E score = ---------------- x100
Total number of registered voters in the electorate
Elected MPs, Nominated MPs and MPs on Bonus seats -- Same as in Option II
The election of an IC on the FPP as MP for a particular electorate, would not pose any problem same as for others. With regard to PR nomination of IC, it is suggested that they be chosen on the basis of either a) A suitable adaptation of the E score as for the other MPs, or b) an I score, which is explained below
In addition to the FPP seats including multiple seats (FPP No), the number of this Independent (IC) group could be worked out by the Election Commissioner as follows:
Total No. of votes received by IC islandwide
Total no. of seats for = ------------------------- x (FPP No)
(“I” seats) Grand Total of all Votes cast islandwide
This number should be a maximum of the present number of 225 minus the FPP No. including the multiple seats,( at present as 165},ie 60 seats.
The IC should be then placed in an order (“I” Score) of performance nationally as follows:- votes received by the I C
I Score of an IC = ------------------------ x 100
Grand Total of all Votes received by all “I” candidates countrywide
Hope this will enable the IC seats to be determined and selected nationally by the will of the people and not necessarily by the party hierarchy!
Cross-Overs: Granting that crossing over is a human right, one has to consider the compelling reason / reasons for the decision for doing so. Is it based on a matter of principle / principles (ideological differences), conflicts with the party hierarchy, such as dissatisfaction with expected positions, harassments, injustices, etc, and/or attractive / tempting offers from another party, and perhaps many more ?
It is almost impossible to ascertain the exact cause, neither is it possible to determine different ways of dealing with the situation according to an analysis of the alleged cause. Whatever the cause, and recognising that all (except Bonus seats) MPs have been elected, selected, or nominated on the basis of, a) party affiliation and b) personal stature, it must be noted that they have been voted into parliament on their political/party status at the time of election; in the case of Independent MPs, it is on a consideration of their non-party political status.
Therefore if they change their party status, for whatever reason/reasons, the people who voted for them should be consulted and their consent obtained. In the case of the Elected Category (FPP), the only way of doing so would be by their resignation from Parliament and re-contesting at a by-election. In the case of crossing-over of MPs, selected on the PR basis, it is suggested that they be allowed to sit with the Independent MPs, and participate in all parliamentary activities, except the right of exercising their vote in Parliament; this stipulation is being made to prevent the possibility of ‘buying” and “stealing” of MPs from one party to another. This measure of denying the vote would eliminate the “purchasing value” of the MP concerned. These stipulations would apply to Independent MPs as well.
Those MPs who have been nominated by the party or chosen for bonus seats would obviously lose their seats if they cross over.
Herbert A. Aponso, Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics, University of Peradeniya - firstname.lastname@example.org
Dayantha Wijeyesekera, Emeritus Professor of Civil Engineering , University of Moratuwa, former VC, University of Moratuwa and Open University of Sri Lanka