By Kusal Perera –
There are close door deliberations among leading politicians of many hues (hardly any shades of political differences in them now), none of whom can be taken as serious and honest wo/men to decide how our Constitutional and Electoral reforms should take shape.
The very arguments/reasons attached to their decisions to either postpone or fast forward the process prove how selfish they are in sticking to power. These wo/men have proposed to increase parliament numbers to 260, with a hybrid of FPP and PR systems.
Unfortunately some Colombo men and women who have chosen to wear the mantle of “civil society” representation, wants to push electoral reforms with any large parliament as long as they can be part of the reform discussions. And these reform discussions are never made open to the public and almost all drafts are in English only. Thus leaving the Sinhala and Tamil polity completely out of the scene. The most tragic part is that, this co-habitation could make the people carry the burden of a still larger parliament in the name of “democracy” as they wish to define, for their own self satisfaction.
SO, let’s quickly run through pros and cons of this proposal to have a still larger parliament of 260 dud coins, in all possibility.
- This present parliament elected in 2010 April is no more a legitimate institution to decide for the people.
In 2010 April when elected, the UPFA as the Govt. had 144 MPs. The Opposition had 81. In 05 months, September saw the Govt. increasing to 153 MPs. Thereafter with Shirani Bandaranayake as CJ agreeing to allow the 18 A to go without a Referendum, the Govt. number increased yet again to 161 in November 2010.
In December 2014 Govt numbers came down to 152 and the Opposition increased to 73 MPs.
All these changes in numbers deformed the will of the people decided in 2010 April, for no good of the people and with no people’s wish. Is it wrong to assume all changes took place with black money rolling, for perks and privileges and for sheer personal gains? Worst was what happened after the Jan 08 presidential poll. President Sirisena appointed Leader of the Opposition as PM of the government with only 64 MPs in a 225 member parliament. With no legal challenges, another 25 from the SLFP joined to be appointed as Ministers and Deputy Ministers, thus making the Wickremesinghe govt still a minority with 89 MPs.
Has this parliament that desecrated the sovereignty of the people and is a wholly illegitimate congregation a moral right to decide how electoral reforms should be made? They simply don’t.
- Providing space for small and minority parties within our electoral reality has no validity.
This is only a very abstract theoretical argument. Almost all small parties on their own have not polled anything more than 02% in past few elections. In 2004 April, the NLF, Sihala Urumaya and EPDP polled below 1.7% in Colombo district. In Kandy, 12 such small parties polled less than 01%. In Anuradhapura it was less than 2.2%. In Galle it was 4.9% and in Badulla, just 1.9%. This has been the case everywhere in all past elections.
Also, in the past 02 decades, most active small and minority parties have not contested alone. They have most often contested in coalition, with one of the 02 major parties, or between them. The JVP contested with the UPFA in 2004 April and as DNA in 2010. Jathika Hela Urumaya contested with the UPFA in 2010 April. The UPFA has 10 small parties permanently tied to it. The UNP had Ganesan’s DPF and the SLMC in 2010.
Thus it makes no sense to have an extremely low 05% cut off point to accommodate small and minority parties, for that is not how they gain representation.
- A major flaw in working out electoral reforms is in restricting all calculations on parliamentary representation only.
Any and all electoral reforms must be taken with elected PCs, the second tier in governance. In 1987 November, parliamentary responsibility was substantially reduced with all local and provincial responsibility taken out of parliament under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and transferred to PCs. Thus, the parliament should have been reduced to that of 1977 (168 MPs) at least.
That social discussion was not possible with JVP in 1988-90 going on an anti devolution terror campaign, killing local activists supporting PCs. But that does not mean, the discussion on reducing the size of parliament should not be socially indulged in, when reforms are deliberated now.
- Argument that PR system with its entrenched “preference vote” has led to corruption and in turned devalued parliament is both a total myth and a farce.
The hybrid system of mixing the old FPP system and the PR sans preference vote is argued for a cleaner representation in parliament. If FPP provides for clean parliaments, then Indian Lok Sabha elected in 2014 April with Modi as PM, can never have 186 out of its 543 MPs with crime charges. A total of 112 of them are charged for serious crime. And 449 of them are “Crorepathies”. Going through past 03 elections show these numbers have been in the increase. No different to what is here in our political culture.
Lesson to learn – Corruption cannot be dealt with only electoral reforms. Corruption is an endemic factor in the neo liberal open market economies. Indian and Sri Lankan experience would prove with mega corruption that eats into political parties, State apparatus, professionals and the corporate sector and all clubbing together for big time wealth, it’s an economic evil. Such was not possible in such scale before the free economy was introduced.
What is therefore necessary is to have the whole process of electoral reforms (so should Constitutional and RTI drafts) democratised. This process of reform is not democratic to start with. People are kept out of all dialogue and all deliberations are limited to party leaders with no credibility to talk of and to political parties that are not democratic in any sense of the word. If this parliament which is not legitimate as argued before is to be used as a Constitutional necessity in adopting reforms, the process must include a serious social dialogue to avoid all that may burden the people. That democratic process should also include all PCs in adopting the reforms. Then a referendum, for people’s approval. This may not be accepted by legal experts, on the grounds the law does not allow such, or the law does not necessitate such. My simple answer is, such democratic process becomes a political necessity when constitutional institutions like the parliament are not worthy of their existence.