By Sujata Gamage –
The 196+59=255 formula within a modified New Zealand method for electoral reform is improving by the day, but, some issues remain. (The UNP has thrown in a 125+100=225 formula. Most formulas would work with some tinkering but it takes time. For the time being let us stay with the 196+59-255, until we are told that 125+100=225 is more politically feasible.)
Any new method with whatever formula introduces uncertainty to all concerned, to minorities, in particular. As I pointed out earlier, solutions exist, but, some of them involve trust.
Indian Origin Tamils are concentrated in Central Province and will have sufficient representation with adequate representation in the Nuwara-Eliya district and multi-member seats in at least Badulla and Mahanuwara. With the widely accepted belief that there was serious gerrymandering in the delimitation process for local councils, TRUST in the delimitation process is key to their acceptance of electoral reforms. Increasing the number of members in the delimitation Commission to five from the original three is a good start. The coming together of the parties led by Mr. Mano Ganeshan, Mr. Digambaran and Mr. Radakrishanan as the Tamil Progressive alliance too is a good move. I hope that they can trust as I do that the President will have respected and knowledgeable members from the key ethnic communities as members of the Delimitation Commission.
For dispersed Muslims outside of the Eastern Province situation is a little more tenuous. Outside of the Beruwela, Harispaththuwa and perhaps in Puttlam they don’t have the numbers to justify multi-member seats. Some Muslim leaders seem to be ahead of the average Sri Lankan, minority or otherwise, in looking forward to the days when the likes of Mr. Abu Sally in Balangoda was the MP for all the people in Balangoda when a Sinahala MPs were supported by Muslim communities. There are many who feel otherwise and justly so given their recent experiences.
Developing an identity as Sri Lankans may be our long term goal but we cannot get there if some of us are deeply unhappy. However, their call for some sort of reservation would open a can of worms where every small group would want a reservation in their district list for themselves. It is better to find solutions within the existing language in the Constitution.
Minorities have always been well represented in the national list. For example, in the 2010 national list there were three Muslim members and 5 Tamil members for 8 minorities out of the 29 total. (See Sharmal Kelambi’s analysis for details). Although it is not articulated as such, the National list members are those who should be representing their communities dispersed across the country. One possibility I see is a modification of the current clause in 99A regarding the national list.
“The Election Commission shall before issuing the notice [to nominate within one week of such notice, persons qualified to be elected as Members of Parliament through the National List], determine whether the number of members belonging to any community, ethnic or otherwise, elected to Parliament under Article 98,is commensurate with the national population ratio and request the secretary of such recognized political party or the group leader of such independent group in so nominating persons to be elected as Members of Parliament to ensure as far as practicable, that the representation of all communities is commensurate with the national population ratio.”
Although the clause no teeth it is a tool that forces party secretaries to think. A modified clause as follows would take the troublesome onus away from the elections commissioner and make the Party Secretaries responsible.
“The Secretaries of each party shall ensure that the list of nominations submitted for each electoral district or the national list is as far as practicable commensurate with the population ratio of communities ethnic or otherwise in the relevant electoral district or the nation”
The clause as practicable as possible may not assure but it would clearly show that in Sri Lanka we believe that a district list or national cannot be all Sinhala and male. To paraphrase President Clinton, ‘Lists of candidates have to look like Sri Lanka (or the relevant electoral district)” This would apply to North and East based Tamil parties. Why not a candidate in the Jaffna list to symbolize the Muslims who were chased out of Jaffna?
Ranked and closed national or district list would further bridge the TRUST gap. President Maithripala Sirisena has been and should continue to be the beacon of TRUST among communities.