By Laksiri Fernando –
Reforming of the electoral system is a hot topic these days. Even abolishing or reforming the executive presidential system might (or threatened to) depend on finding a feasible reform for the electoral system. There are some who want to get back to the old first past the post (FPP) system. There are others who prefer or want to stick to the proportional representation (PR). The general thinking for a long time has been to employ a mixed system which is again controversial due to a lack of feasible method or controversy over employable different formulas. The Dinesh Gunawardena Report is one example for this imbroglio.
The present article is sequent to the earlier one on “Proposal for a Simple Electoral Reform” (Colombo Telegraph, 16 March 2015), but gives a proof for the feasibility of the proposed method. As it was argued, the effort so far has been to employ the two systems separately, some MPs under the FPP and some MPs under the PR. As it was stated, “This to me is an unnecessary effort to combine the two, and instead an FPP or constituency system could be accommodated quite easily within the PR system to achieve the same or better objectives.”
The objectives of the proposal to be achieved as explained previously were:
(1) To do away with the preferential voting and competition.
(2) To create constituencies where the respective MPs are closer to the voters.
(3) To ensure the viable minor parties receive adequate representation.
(4) To guarantee the overall composition of the parliament to reflect the proportional voting of the people.
Given the consequent debates or political haggling there is no difficulty even in adding another objective as follows.
(5) To create stability in parliament after the abolition/reform of the executive presidential system.
The last article explained the method/s that could be employed in determining the final election results in four main steps or ways and a brief summary of them are as follows. Only comment on the above fifth (5) objective is that there are other or better ways of achieving stability not only in parliament but also in the country at large.
First and foremost, elections are held in constituencies (i.e. 160 constituencies) using the traditional FPP method. Nominations are called from political parties or independent candidates for separate constituencies (i.e. Moratuwa, Mulkirigala, Vavuniya etc.). Thus the above first two objectives are achieved by eliminating the preferential competition and allowing the voters in a constituency to have their own MP (Ape Manthri). A voter has to mark only one cross (X) before the preferred party/candidate. Thus the method is also simpler. Even at present, election results are calculated and issued for the existing constituencies and therefore the election department can use the same arrangements. All candidates who ‘first past the post’ get elected. See Table 2 (in Annex) calculated on the basis of 2010 parliamentary election results as example.
Second, nominations are also called simultaneously from political parties for 22 electoral districts on list basis in a preferential order. There can be different views and compromises as to who could (or could not) constitute these lists. Necessary amendments need to be made to the constitution (Article 99) and the election law. This is the same for the first step or the FPP system. The number of nominated candidates should be equal to the number of PR seats allocated for that district by the Commissioner of Elections under Article 98 (8). The entitlement of PR seats by each party is calculated on the basis of the present PR calculations as per Article 99 (6) (7) and (8). The present author consider the method as a valid PR calculation also giving bonus seats for the leading party to ensure stability which is a much concern on the part of some political parties. See Table 3 (in Annex) for the allocated seats on the basis of the above method at the 2010 general elections. This is the main overarching method to achieve the objectives (3) and (4) namely to ensure the viable minor parties to receive adequate representation and to guarantee that the overall composition of the parliament does not distort the proportional voting of the people.
Third. It is obvious that both systems cannot go side by side and it is not necessary. Or otherwise, there can be a ‘jumbo parliament’ (160+196= 356!). Therefore, the third step is the important method of reconciling FPP with PR at the district level. More correctly, this method can be called ‘accommodating the FPP within the PR system.’ This is mainly a calculation in the case of FPP winning parties and allocating PR seats to runner up and/or minor parties who qualify for PR allocation under the present requirements. The reconciliation is applied by deducting the number of PR seats by the number of FPP seats (PR –FPP = district entitlement or district overhang). As explained in the last article, some parties may win more FPP seats than they are entitled under the PR system and these are called ‘hangover seats.’ These can be reconciled later. See Table 4 for the calculations of final district PR seats on the basis of 2010 parliamentary elections.
Fourth is the continuation of the national list method and national PR system as at present. The purpose of retaining this method is to allow the nationally dispersed parties to achieve what they might not achieve under the district PR system and to give major parties some flexibility to accommodate ‘deserving people’ in their national list allocations. The national PR also allows the final reconciliation of the overhang number of seats within the national PR system if the political parties agree to it. This step enhances the objective (4) above, namely to guarantee that the overall composition of the parliament reflects the proportional voting in the country as much as possible. See Table 5 as an example of standard national list allocations based on 2010 general elections.
However, there can still be concerns over the stability of government as per the objective five (5) and in the next section, different methods or options are shown to accommodate these concerns in Table 1 (A) (B) and (C). These options are calculated on the basis of Tables 2, 3, 4 and 5 (in Annex) as explained previously in this section. Table 1 is also the proof of the feasibility of the method/s proposed.
Proof of Feasibility
Let us begin with the final results of the calculations which prove the feasibility of the overall method. For this purpose, three optional methods are employed for the government and/or political parties to pick and choose.
Optional Method A
Table 1 (A) shows the comparative picture of the calculations with the actual composition at the 2010 parliamentary elections using Method A.
The following calculations are made based on Table 2 (FPP), Table 4 (Final District PR) and Table 5 (National PR) in the Annex.
UPFA = 136 FPP + 12 PR + 17 National – 21 Overhang = 144
UNP = 9 FPP + 42 PR + 9 National – 0 Overhang = 60
AITK = 15 FPP + 3 PR + 1 National – 5 Overhang = 15
DNA = 0 FPP + 5 PR + 2 National – 0 Overhang = 7
In this method, the overhang seats are finally deducted not only from the national list allocations but also from the district PR allocations as necessary. Yet in the case of the AITK still there is one seat in excess as they had only 3 district PR and only 1 national list, while having 5 overhangs from the FPP.
Optional Method B
It is possible that the major parties might disagree to totally give up district PR allocations for various reasons. In that case, the final results can be calculated using the Method B.
In this method, the overhang number of seats are deducted only from the national list allocations and keeping any residue seats in parliament. The obviously result is the increase of the number of parliamentary seats and this may differ (slightly) from election to election.
UPFA = 136 FPP + 12 PR + (17 National – 21 Overhang = -4) = 152
UNP = 9 FPP + 42 PR + (9 National – 0 Overhang = 9) = 60
AITK = 15 FPP + 3 PR + (1 National – 5 Overhang = -4) = 22
DNA = 0 FPP + 5 PR + (2 National – 0 Overhang = 2) = 7
Optional Method C
Of course there can be another method without deducting the overhang number of seats at all even from the national list number and this will increase the size of the parliament by another 26 seats which is also not completely a bad proposition. The following Table 1 (C) shows the resultant calculations and the method employed. There is a possibility of the final number 251 being stable, if other necessary electoral reforms are undertaken.
UPFA = 136 FPP + 12 PR + 17 National = 165
UNP = 9 FPP + 42 PR + 9 National = 60
AITK = 15 FPP + 3 PR + 1 National = 19
DNA = 0 FPP + 5 PR + 2 National = 7
The present proposal is made to retain the overall PR system also taking into account the need to reintroduce the FPP based constituencies and the concerns for a stable government. The proposed system completely eliminates the preferential voting system and could reintroduce (up to) 160 constituencies without much hindrance. In proposing this system, the validity of the present PR calculations were taken into account. Only difference is the accommodation of the 160 FPP seats within the overall PR of 196+29 with a present overflow of 26 seats which can be eliminated in the future by increasing the district PR to 122 or more and retaining the national PR 29 as it is. The most acceptable optional method at present might be the Method C.
This proposal is also made in this fashion considering the time constraints and political and practical realities. No need to emphasize that ‘politics is the art of the possible.’ This proposal could be the least controversial and least cumbersome. There is no much preparation needed on the part of the election department. The proposal also can be a win-win solution for those who support the Dinesh Gunawardena propositions and those who oppose them. This also can be a compromise solution for the FPP advocates and the PR advocates as this proposes a synthesis between the two. This system also can be called 1 to 2 PR/FPP however within an overall PR system. In one of our examples, 160 FPP and 91 PR envisaged. There is no need to revise substantially the present enumeration or calculation methods. Mainly the nomination systems (methods and procedures) have to be newly designed. The voting system however will be simpler than the present and there are certain compromises necessary between political parties regarding bot the district PR lists and national PR nominations.
The only disadvantage of the proposed system or method would be the uncertainty of the final number of MPs in parliament until the elections are concluded. That is however within a reasonable range (225 and 251). There are several other countries who are in the same category. However, there is no reason for the number to go beyond 251 at a forthcoming election as no party at the immediate future would be in a position to perform as the UPFA did at the last 2010 elections. Therefore, the overall overhang number of seats would be less and not more. This proposal can be considered an interim solution while retaining the same method and procedure for the future. By increasing the number of district PR allocations (i.e. from present 196 to 122) and/or reducing the number of FPP seats subsequently through new delimitation, the overhang element could completely be eliminated.
Note: The present author has been arguing for the retention of an overall PR system for the national parliament for a long time from a Political Science and a democracy point of view. (See Laksiri Fernando and Dietmar Kneitschel (Ed.), A New Electoral System for Sri Lanka, FES, 1999).
The data in Tables 2, 3, 4 and 5 referred to in the text to calculate the optional Methods A, B and C are given in the following annex. No further explanations are given for the tables at this stage.
*Includes overhang numbers above 196 as of column 3.