By Sujata Gamage –
Dr. Laksiri Fernando’s article on accommodating FFP within the PR system resonates with a series of discussions among a conglomeration of civil society groups and individuals brought together by CaFFE Sri Lanka since 11 March 2015. We have been discussing, among other options, what I might call a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system similar to the New Zealand system. Given adaptations that we have to make in order to make it work here in Sri Lanka we call that system MMP-LK. Essentially, here, the seats in Parliament are divided up according to the present PR method but FPP winners are accommodated within the PR allocations. Dr. Fernando’s terminology makes it easier to understand the method.
However, several major problems bedevil his proposal. First, the alternative proposal in the 2007 Interim Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) has been disregarded completely in his article. The PSC method is what I call a Mixed Member Majoritarian method with a Sri Lanka twist or an MMM-LK method. That method has its merits, particularly in regard to the criterion of forming a stable government. Recall that the major party forming the government in 1994, 2000, 2001 and 2004 did not have a simple majority of 113 seats in Parliament and had to form miscellaneous alliances. Our simulations show that that The MMM-LK method would have given a simple majority to the winning party in 2000, 2001 and 2004 and reduced the excessive majority received by the UPFA in 2010. The MMP-LK system of accommodating FPP within PR has to be weighed against the PSC proposed MMM-LK. No grounds exist for outright rejection.
Secondly, whatever method we choose, delimitation is a must. As I understand, Dr. Fernando proposes to work with the “historical” 160 polling divisions to conduct the next election. His calculations indeed show that there will be severe overhang problems if we go with these 160 units. For example, Jaffna historically had 11 electorates but the district is entitled to only 9 MPs according to the latest calculation by the Election Commissioner as per Article 90 of the Constitution. Here we have an overhang of FPP entitlements being greater than the PR entitlement problem. Dr. Fernando shows how the overhang problem can be solved temporarily by using the national list allocations and expanding the number of seats in the parliament to 250 or more as needed. But this is a work around, not a solution worthy of inclusion in the Constitution.
Electoral reform is not about numbers only. At a minimum, we need to bring back the eight multi-member electorates that existed in 1977, to increase the FPP units to 168. Otherwise, Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya electorate with an electoral base of over 300,000 will have only one representative while Jaffna district will have 11 electorates for an electoral base of 530,000. Demographics have changed greatly over the past 35 years and the up-country Tamil people who received citizenship in 1982 are now scattered across the Central Province and are also in the Vanni and elsewhere. Unless we increase the number of multi-member electorates further, their representatives are not likely to get nominations from major parties. Muslim voters in places like Beruwala and Colombo Central are also likely to be marginalized by the Fernando solution.
Thirdly, Dr. Fernando does not elaborate who would occupy those seats remaining after the FPP winners are accommodated. The standard method in mixed systems is to appoint individuals from closed party lists. The PSC report introduces the concept of best runner-up which is more suited for Sri Lanka where internal party democracy does not exist. The promise in the Common Candidate’s manifesto specifically mentions giving recognition to defeated candidates or those more appropriately identified as “best runners-up.”
Finally, electoral reforms will have to take into account issues of integration, representation and decision making. The PR system has given us representatives who collect race- or caste-based votes from across an electoral district. It has given us representation at the expense of integration. The solution is to demarcate electorates as multi-ethnic communities but make them multi-member constituencies so that minorities can gradually move toward a Sri Lankan identity. Multi-member electorates will take care of most of the representation and integration issues. The decision-making ability of an elected government is an important consideration too, in light of proposed changes to the executive presidency, in particular. In that regard, the MMM-LK method has its strong points. If minorities can be accommodated with multi-member constituencies and small parties accommodated with special allocations from the national list, the MMM-LK method is superior to the FPP accommodated within PR method with best runner-up considerations or MMP-LK method.
Whether we go for MMM-LK or MMP-LK, the delimitation process must start at once. As a senior official noted, the President has powers to appoint special commissions and a committee so appointed could start the delimitation process without waiting for the Constitutional amendment. All the Commission needs to know is how many FPP units are required and the basic parameters. The three numbers -140, 150 and 160 – that have been discussed and been the bases of our simulations constitute the short list. Our estimates show that a delimitation to create 140 electorates with 10 of them being multi-member for a total of 150 FPP units would work well with both MMM-LK or MMP-LK methods.
Why wait, Mr. President? Let us get the delimitation process started.