By Mano Ratwatte –
USA is Sri Lanka’s new Best Friend Forever(BFF); USA has done a lot of preaching on racial diversity and representation and democracy. Thus it might be a good place to look at Uncle Sam’s numbers. Is there any nation where there is tremendous diversity of population such as in the US where there is single State Assembly or Federal institution that has equal numbers representing different ethnic groups?
Black or African American 10.1%
The Senate which elects two Senators from each State (all having equal power). Percentages are the same as numbers because there are only 100 Senators.
Black/African American 2
Obama didn’t win a majority of white votes in most states but he won a significant minority percentage of the majority race; he won 98% and 95% of the Black votes in the States that mattered and a similarly high percentage of Hispanic voters. Similar to Mr. Sirisena.
Census statistic on Gender says the percentage of women in the US population is 50.8% yet the house is made up of only 19.4% Female Congressmen. Senate has 20 Female Senators; lopsidedly unequal and sexist. Similar to Sri Lanka. USA only uses FPP; is that terribly sexist, racist and unequal considering ethnic and gender percentages of the population?
Since 1870 only an abysmal total of 146 African Americans have served as U.S. Representatives, Delegates, or Senators. It is indeed a racist iniquitous condition; only 4 Blacks have ever been elected to the powerful US Senate since reconstruction; Obama was one of them. The first black Senator in post Civil war and post reconstruction USA was Republican liberal Senator Ed Brooks from Massachusetts( elected in 1967 a full 100 plus years after the civil war ended) during the height of race riots). He lost in 1979. There was a gap of 13 years until the first black female Senator Carolyn Mosely Braun was elected from Illinois; she lost after one unethical term.
The only black from the South in the current Senate is from the first state to secede: South Carolina. Tim Scott: Republican; a full 150 years after the Civil war ended and where de-facto racial/cultural segregation is still the norm; he was appointed by the Governor to fill a vacancy; the other is Senator Cory Booker a liberal democrat from New Jersey. He won because he garnered enough liberal white votes in addition to a vast majority of black votes.
In Oklahoma which is 78% white, and ultra conservative (Bible Belt), a famous American Football player and Christian Conservative JC Watts became the first Black Republican/Congressman from Oklahoma(in 1994) Some voters were expected to not vote for Watts because of race, but Watts’ established Christian conservative image and his popularity as a football player helped him win. Football prowess and his faith overcame pigmentation.
Each state is apportioned a number of seats which approximately corresponds to its share of the aggregate population of the 50 states. However, every state is constitutionally guaranteed at least one seat.
US States engage in what is called “Gerrymandering” at State level every time a new State governor and state legislator is takes office seat border by precinct might be adjusted to either increase or deprive certain groups of seats.
Currently there are no black congressmen from most Southern Confederate States even though the states have a significantly higher percentage of blacks than Northern States. Carving out of districts is done to try to favor your own party at Federal level. With its history of oppression of blacks and its brutal segregated past, it seems more and more conservative Christian whites Gerrymander to keep blacks out of Congress.
Here are some examples
Alabama has a 26% black population but only one black congressman
Currently there are no black representatives from Tennessee and Arkansas.
Georgia has a 31.4% black population and has only 4.
Mississippi is 37.3% black and has only 1; Lousiana is 32% black and also has 1.
However, the number of seats in the House of Reps. has remained at 435 since the early 1900s. Populous states have a greater number of seats simply based on population and that allocation is not based on ethnic percentages. No quota by race.
Re-examine Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Tamil 11.2%
Sri Lankan Moors 9.2%
Indian Tamil 4.2%
other 0.5% (2012 est.)
Can someone tells us what is meant by equal representation as opposed to proportionate and equitable representation? Are Sri Lanka’s ethno-religious parties today troubled they might lose out and relinquish cushy ministerial perks because of FPP? What is the fairest equitable allocation of seats? Or if PR is to continue, what is the cutoff mark they will be happy with to make it a more inclusive Assembly?
If FPP will be the future, shouldn’t they (and JVP, DNA and JHU) argue for more multi member seats? Won’t multi-seat electorates in more diverse and more populous districts such as Colombo be better if FPP is used? Isn’t PR better?
Absent in these strident ethno-religious arguments is a call for equitable and greater representation of females (51% of the population) in Parliament and instead the arguments are for equal representation by ethno classifications on the basis that minorities do not vote for the major parties; that seems dangerously segregationist and a fallacious argument.
Will Native Veddas, Burghers and Malays who deserve to be represented get elected? Not without specially reserves seats! What is the happy PR cutoff for the JVP, Democratic Party and other smaller parties? 2%?
In Sri Lanka, there have been many instances of Ethnic minorities representing the majority (as well as the 2 biggest national parties) being elected as well. Lot more Tamils and Muslims have won in Sinhala majority areas than otherwise.
In Jaffna District, Kumar Ponnambalam won 40% , Hector Kobbekaduwa won 35.46% and JRJ only won 20.54% of the votes cast in 1982(probably why he resented Tamils).
If all Tamils were racists blindly voting for “our guy”, Ponnambalam should have obtained far more votes! Tamils wouldn’t have voted for Sirisena in those large numbers either.
In 1970 with the SLFP wave, Colombo Central elected Late Hon Premedasa(RP), Falil Cafoor and Communist party’s Burgher Peter Keunaman; but Haleem Ishak(HI) came 4th though he was the SLFP nominee.
Wouldn’t it be an utter insult to the intelligence and secularity of voters to say they should only vote by ethnicity or religion? If that were the case, Aboosally would have lost in 1977! He received a massive 10.6% margin. In 1977, the late Mr. MH Mohammed also won by a landslide from Borella; how can people say the Sinhalese voters were racists there when the Sinhala opposition candidate only won 30.6% of the vote to MH’s whopping 61.9%?
Same year, Haleem Ishak and Abdul Cader were both elected from multi member Colombo Central during UNP’s landslide. RP won 36.32% M.Jabir A Cader won 22.76% and SLFP’s HI got 20.75%. Most likely SLFP voters were Sinhalese but they voted for Mr. Ishak who just happened to be a secular socialist like respected trade unionist Alavi Moulana former Governor of WP; or Hon. AHM Fowzie and neither used an ethnic card.
Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya was gerrymandered to become a three member seat to accommodate Anura Bandaranaike, and to represent Sinhala votes. Gamini Dissanayake won 40.98% Anura Bandaranaike 30.33% S. Thondaman 22.23%; it was an equitable representative(not equal) solution to a complex unique problem considering how the British deliberately altered demographics of the region and to assuage disenfranchised Sinhalese.
The UNP has always been the party that attracted more Muslim, Tamil and Catholic voters in far greater numbers than the SLFP. It was only under CBK that PA became a more inclusive representative party, and was able to shed its “Sin-Bu” image. This was her recipe for success. Will the SLFP restore its image to be more inclusive and win or will they be trounced as many predict?
But now with Parliament dissolved 20A will be for another day and another August assembly. Sri Lanka’s parliament is still far more representative and equitable than the US Congress.