26 May, 2019

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Degeneration Of Parliament & Potential Of Electoral Reform/s

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

What we know from history is that electoral reforms can empower people and bring change for democracy, social welfare and even development. Take our own example of 1931. Before that only the educated with property could elect a limited number of representatives to the Legislative Council.

However, when the universal franchise was introduced with equal voting rights for women, the whole scenario changed. People became empowered. The State Counsellors had to deliver results in legislative initiatives and reforms. Of course some of our own leaders opposed the universal franchise, and reforms thereafter. But people embraced the opportunity with enthusiasm.

If we take the socio-political changes during 1931 and 1948, for example, they were tremendous. Free universal education was introduced, health services expanded, trade unions were recognized, Swabhasha emphasized and the local government system strengthened. Considerable stimulation and support were given to small and local industries. Large agricultural schemes were initiated.

Take the example of Britain, a century ago. The Great Reform Act of 1832 paved the way for further reforms and modern democracy in that country. The ‘rotten boroughs’ similar to our present district ‘manape’ were abolished and the parliamentary seats were re-distributed. The workers and lower middle classes were empowered. Although the universal franchise came to that country much later, the reforms paved the way for the modern Britain in tangible sense.

Root Causes of Political Ills

Many of the ills that we see in our political system today can be traced to the much maligned electoral system and election laws, both practiced and malpracticed. All recent election monitors, national and international, were unanimous that major election violence and violations were due to the ‘rotten manape’ competitions.
Under the present system, the candidates tend to use colossal amounts of money and then try to recover them through most insidious ways. Corruption is the whole mark at both ends. Only the rich or those who depend on the rich can easily contest elections from major parties. If there are exceptions, they are few and far between. The culprits are not only the people, but also the systems. The ills are systemic.

When the representatives are elected from large districts, they are not responsible to a particular electorate like in the good old days. When called for accountability, they easily pass the buck to another. Although some electoral organizers are appointed, those are for party purposes and not for people purposes. They jump from one party to another, back and forth. No by-elections are held.

The end result is low quality parliamentarians. Many of them don’t know whether they are coming or going. As some have revealed, 94 MPs are without O/L and 124 without A/L. The basic functional intelligence necessary for their tasks seem to be quite low. In the midst of them, even the experienced or ‘degree ones’ seem to get degenerated. This is abundantly clear from the debates that they conduct. The Speaker or the Standing Orders are rarely respected. Some of their utterances are quite unparliamentary or even obscene.

Effects of the Presidential System and the War

For the degeneration of the parliamentary system or traditions, not only the electoral system but also the authoritarian executive presidential system was responsible. When the sole executive powers were held at Temple Trees, and not at Kotte, the Parliament became virtually hollow. The roots of the situation is long standing, going back to 1978.

The protracted war made its own contribution for Parliament’s degeneration. The members of Parliament became communally polarized along with the country and its people. Communalism was easy propaganda for both or all sides. Otherwise, Parliament could have been a useful forum for conflict resolution or reconciliation.

With the militarization of the country, parliamentarians and their politics also became militarized. The result was presidential powers becoming enlarged, both before and after 18A. The MPs became just signal posts. Crossovers were induced making the opposition ineffective. The Supreme Court also gave decisions making the degeneration more sanctimonious.

What became apparent recently was the parliamentarians going behind a Presidential Supremo, losing their independence and integrity. There were some temporary reasons for it because of the war victory. However after the war, the situation was quite irrational and nonsensical. Parliamentary democracy is not a disguise for an archaic monarchy or authoritarianism. Now the situation is largely changed thanks to the 19th Amendment. However, some hangovers still remain anchored in the electoral system.

January 8th Mini Revolution

It is not an exaggeration to call the January presidential victory a mini-revolution. The victorious common candidate, Maithripala Sirisena, has become largely the ‘change agent.’ It is unprecedented for a powerful President to give up powers. However, that has happened. Unfortunately, this momentum could not be seen in Parliament.
President has reformed him/itself. Would the Parliament reform itself? This is the million dollar question today.

Even the January revolution took place with pressure from the bottom or middle rungs of the people. Civil society played a major role pioneered by the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) and others. For that revolution to sustain, it should take the second step in reforming the electoral system and paving the way forward for a more effective, resourceful and progressive Parliament.

Electoral Reform Proposals

There have been certain uncertainties about the electoral reform proposals. These are natural given the past confusions or conflicting interests. The reform agenda also has to overcome some time-limitations. There is pressure that parliament should be dissolved soon and elections held.

Since independence, Sri Lanka has known two electoral systems. A combination of the two (FPP and PR) might be the best for the country. Both are known to the people. That is also the trend in most enlightened democracies in the world today. However, the question is how do you combine the two?

Some have suggested to combine the two in separate compartments, like in a train. In this method, the overall PR is lost.

However, the most recent proposals are to accommodate the FPP electorates within both the district and the national PR. This is the most progressive method where both targets are achieved. Here the overall PR can be achieved. However the other benefits depend on the specific combinations.

President’s first proposal had the potential of implementation even at the next elections without delimitation of seats. However, it unnecessarily enlarged the national list (59) or the overall number to 255. With the subsequent proposals, holding of the next elections under a new system is remote. Anyway, the Commissioner seems to be adamant, that the next elections should be held under the current system (Sunday Observer, 15 February 2015). That is his personal preference as well.

Opportunity for Change

Electoral reforms should be viewed within a broader framework of democratic change. Now the 18th Amendment is abrogated, even a future President cannot hold on to power for more than two terms. Most of the draconian powers of the presidency are also clipped under the 19A. More importantly, independent commissions are re-introduced although not yet implemented. Those commissions should be allowed to function properly before the next elections. The important task is to carry forward the democratic change that started with the presidential elections.

Therefore, it would be a great pity if the next parliamentary election is held under the defective present system, while the country adopts a better and a more desirable system after much effort and pain. It is true that under normal circumstances, when a new system is introduced, the implementation is delayed to allow the people to understand the new system. However, in the present case, the proposed system is not completely new, but a combination of the past two systems.

During mid-1990s, several countries moved into new electoral systems. Some countries took time to implement the new changes, while others moved swiftly. All depended on political necessity. New Zealand took time (1993 to 1996). In contrast, South Africa promulgated far reaching changes in January 1994 and held the elections in April of the same year.

What might be necessary in Sri Lanka’s case is to decide on an ‘interim’ and a ‘permanent.’ President’s first proposal (165+31+59=155) without the national list increase is the best for the next elections, while his second formula (145+55+37=137) could be the permanent with a dual ballot system. There is no need to go beyond 225 at the next elections as the UNP has suggested.

If the new FPP/PR system is introduced at the next elections, then it would tremendously improve the quality of the next Parliament. The new system would give a boost to the people to take control of the election moment. It would create a new enthusiasm for democracy, good governance and political change through ‘united fronts’ and ‘common candidates’ at the electoral level. The repetition of the district manape would probably divide the democratic forces. I have here discussed only the electoral system, but there are other election law reforms that are necessary for purposeful democratic change.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    Laksiri Fernando,

    There are some arithmetic’s mix-up in your presentation.

    If we consider the corrected version;

    The Presidents first proposal is(165+31+59=255) and his second proposal is (145+55+37=237).

    IF you claim the President’s first proposal is the best for the next election (interim) How about reducing the national list from 59 to 29 so that the total number is kept at 225 and make it not only as as an interim but a permanent solution as well?

    Another issue confronting MMP is how to manage overhang seats within the national list whatever the total number of seats –(225 or 237 or 255)may be;

    If the overhang problem arises among the major two parties the problem could be managed within the national list.
    But if overhang problem arises in the case of a third party say TNA in jaffna with no national list allotters, how could this problem be resolved.
    Sri

    • 1
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      Sri-Krish,

      I claim/ed the President’s first proposal as the best for the next election (interim) also on the premise that the elected Parliament is going to be a Constituent Assembly. If we keep the 225 as it is (general or minimum), there can be an overhang overflow. It is ok for the interim and/or Constituent Assembly. It is by estimating it to be 30, I believe the total number was increased (or fixed?) to 255. That is wrong. Theoretically, it can even go beyond. It is like what we can see in Germany. Instead of 598 seats, there are 631 MPs at present (2013). This is not good as a permanent solution for Sri Lanka.

      As I have pointed out once previously, if one wants to minimize the overhang problem in a proposed system (MMP or as I have once called it an embedded system) it best be done at the district level keeping a desirable gap between FPP and the district PR. I think the proposal to increase the national list (29 to 59) in the first proposal was done misreading the New Zealand example. Most of the advisors seem to be New Zealanders!

      However, in both PM’s (125+75+25) and President’s second (145+55+37) proposals this is fairly done. But none can be interim because they require delimitation. As a permanent solution, PM’s proposal is not realistic as it wants to bring down the FPP from 160 to 125.

      You have raised few other issues for which I don’t have definitive answers. I don’t like to offer speculative answers. My present feeling is the following. Why not first experiment FPP/PR or MMP as interim before fixing it for the future? On the basis of the experience and results, a Constituent Assembly could best devise a long term solution. Otherwise we are losing a great opportunity.

  • 1
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    Dr Laksiri Fernando,

    The proposed 20A is basically proportional representation system accommodating FPP within the Proportional representation.

    In this scenario, could 31 or 55 district proportional seats are adequate in ensuring district proportional representation in all the 22 electoral districts, assuming the electoral districts remains unchanged?

    Through simulation or otherwise was the various probabilities tested by any scholars and correct number of seats in different electoral districts determined or is it arbitrarily done?

    Sri

    • 1
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      Sri-Krish,

      Yes, “the proposed 20A is basically proportional representation system accommodating FPP within PR.” Therefore, when it says, 145+55+37=237 all 237 seats (should) reflect votes what parties obtain proportionally at elections. In the above formula, 55 is not the total district PR. Total district PR is 200. However, 145 are elected under FPP and deducted from respective 200 district PR. Therefore, 55 is the remaining district PR. Let me quote two sentences from President’s memorandum to the Cabinet.

      “Of the 237 members, 200 (196 + 4) will be elected [enumerated] under the current District Proportional Representation System.”

      “Included in this number of 200 (196 + 4) are 145 members who are essentially elected under the First Past the Post System.”

  • 1
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    “As some have revealed, 94 MPs are without O/L and 124 without A/L.
    This is UNIVERSAL FRANCHISE MR. LAKSIRI

    “The basic functional intelligence necessary for their tasks seem to be quite low.”
    NOW YOU ARE INSULTING & HUMILIATING THAT UNIVERSAL FRANCISE
    Do you think a degree or a doctorrate brings a person Intelligence??

    Quote” What might be necessary in Sri Lanka’s case is to decide on an ‘interim’ and a ‘permanent.’ President’s first proposal (165+31+59=155) without the national list increase is the best for the next elections, while his second formula (145+55+37=137) could be the permanent with a dual ballot system. There is no need to go beyond 225 at the next elections as the UNP has suggested.”

    LOOKIING AT THE NUMBERS ABOVE PROVIDED BY DR.LF, EVEN WITH A DOCTORATE MR FERNANDO NOR EVEN THE PRESIDENT OF SL ARE ELIGIBLE TO HOLD ANY POSITION….. deiyo sakki !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • 0
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      I quite agree with you.This man Laksiri proves the pony. He unbecoming of a so called educated person deliberately, and disingenuously attempts to distract from the main issues facing the country today.. He refuse to broach on the perversion of democracy – that is the will of the peopled and the public. Does he care to talk about illegal abrogation of the powers of the ‘independent’ police. or the influence on judiciary or the alleged political influence on the customs dept by the finance minister or the alleged daylight robbery in the central bank.
      This is not about educational qualifications. It is about so called educated antinational section of vested interests kowtowing to subsume this country , because of its strategic location.
      It is not education that matters; it is honesty, loyalty, values and a vision.
      After all. the father of this nation D S Senanayake would have been disqualified from public office if these people had their say.

  • 0
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    Even 225 MPs are too many for Sri Lanka.
    The ‘revised’ Constitutional Council of 7 MPs & 3 Laymen is sure to appoint political lackeys to the various commissions – the whole purpose of ‘independence’ of the commissions, is cast aside.

  • 1
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    Prof.Laksiri,

    We are in quite a quandary. Arn’t we?

    We need electoral reforms. However, if approved by parliament in the most acceptable form, it will not come into effect until 2020!

    It is also unlikely that the electoral reforms will be in a form that would suit our circumstances.

    The next general elections are to be held any way under the prevailing system!

    Parliament is paralysed . The 19th amendment was deliberately deformed at birth and many of its much awaited features are being prevented from coming into effect.

    In these circumstances why not dissolve parliament and hold the elections soon?

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 1
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      Ven. Rathaba Thero, has today made the call for a new government to be formed from the present parliament, to pass the 20th amendment. This means he wants a government led by the SLFP. What is the signifance of this call in terms of the current circumstances and when the monumental hideousness of the last government that is being exposed on a daily basis?

      Is President Sirisena right in repeatedly postponing the dissolution of parliament? Is he olaying into the hands of MR and his gang? Are the gains of the 8th January’ 2015 people’s revolution being deliberately dismantled? Is it wise for President Sirisena to yet believe that he can rein in the SLFP? Has he been caught in the web being spun by the very forces that sponsored his candidature and those he mobilised to support him ?

      Dr.RN

    • 1
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      Dr Rajasingham,

      Yes, I agree. We are in quite a quandary. That is why I say ‘why not first experiment at the next elections before finalizing for the future?’ It is a voice in the wilderness, I know. Democracy movements are always fuzzy and complicated. There are no neat developments. As far as the debates are within the democratic framework, those are potentially healthy. 19A was partial but a move forward. Electoral reform debate is healthy. We should not close the lid by going for a hasty election, in my view.

  • 1
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    Dr Laksiri Fernando,

    Thanks for your response for my two questions.

    In my second question it seems that I have not clearly framed my question for a comprehensive answer. Let me reframe my question.

    Let us consider the total 255 seats out of which 200 seats will be filled according to the district proportional system including 145 FPP Members.

    From our past experience, FPP results (1947,1952,1960 march and july,1965,1970 and 1977 elections) heavily distorted district proportion and that is the rational used for the introduction of proportional representation after 1977.

    Now we have only this additional 55 seats to rectify the distortion in all 22 electoral districts.

    Could this be accomplished with only 55 additional seats?

    when these 55 seat are spread out throughout the country, there is a livelyhood that in certain districts this exercise ending in failure.

    To offset this scenario, the only solution is to increase the number of district proportional seats rationally so that an optimum number could be arrived.

    In my opinion this number of district proportion members was determined arbitrarily without any scientific basis.

    Sri

    For your comments please.

    • 0
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      Your Question Mr Sri-Krish:

      “Now we have only this additional 55 seats to rectify the distortion in all 22 electoral districts. Could this be accomplished with only 55 additional seats?”

      My Answer:

      Yes. Past election simulations reveal, I quote Dr Gamage, “we get overhangs of 24, 34, 33 and 26 respectively, for 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2010 general elections.” 55 is too much.

    • 0
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      Sri,

      Sorry if I were too simplistic in my previous answer. About your second question/concern this time, I don’t think it is completely correct to say that 55 seats are spread throughout the country or it is wrong or incorrect. Alternatively, it might be good (in the future) for the ‘regional’ parties to become national or part of national coalitions. However, you are technically correct to say that the best way to avoid distortions is to rationally increase the district proportional seats or increase the gap between the district PR and the FPP. That also will address the first concern. If the country goes for the next elections on the basis of the President’s first proposal, in an adjusted manner, a current regional party like the TNA will not be disadvantaged. It might be on the contrary advantaged for a Constituent Assembly. But I am not completely sure about the SLMC at the moment. That has to be studied. However, as it is a spread out party, it might benefit from the national PR.

  • 0
    0

    There is no need increase the number of MPs. What is more necessary is greater devolution to the periphery( provinces). That will be greater democracy.

    Sengodan. M

  • 1
    0

    Dr Laksiri Fernando,

    Well! I follow Dr Sujata Gamage as well. But I could not locate your reference.

    If overhang is the only problem, it could be accommodated within the national list at least among the major parties.In minority party dominated districts the problem may persist!

    Whatever it may be, if the range is between 26-34 Why go for 55?

    -Unnecessary expenses

    Further Is it not prudent if we analyse the election results of elections held from 1947 to 1994 as well!

  • 0
    0

    “Many of the ills that we see in our political system today can be traced to the much maligned electoral system and election laws, both practiced and malpracticed.”

    That is not true.

    The major problem of Lankave is the lefts, Sinhala Intellectuals misinterpreting the truth. Example, Prof. Laksiri, Vasudeva, Tissa Vidharana….. If the lefts are not there, the parliament will show right away 50% improvement. These guy just blame Ranil and JR for all things. It is D.S, who was released out by Ramanathan left the Tamils go out of Lankave. Why blame 1978 Constitution? The Russian leader is 2 times powerful then the Old King. He is wrong, but not cheap, low class Intellectuals, like the Old King. They openly say what they want to do and do it. Watch what the other low class Sinhala intellectual Dhanapala is doing in UN! Talking sweet and preaching Buddhism in the UN and at the same time killing the Tamils. That is what another left, Dhayan did at UN. But watch at the same time what is Putin doing. He is challenging if the NATO is not moving out of Ukraine, he will add 40 kind of new nuclear arm to his arms pool. That is how even the Hitler did. They do not bring the number plate-less white van to arrest Tamil and then after arrest call them LTTE.

    From 1933 Tamils have been complaining about the Sinhala Intellectuals rule. Donomore Commission was opposed by Tamils and Soulbury commission was opposed by Tamils. Sinhala Intellectuals cheated both commission and got what they wanted from them, both. Now they are claiming they are re-inventing democracy with 19A. 6A, the anti-democratic section of the constitution is implemented line by line. Where is the one that was written with India’s Rajiv, the 13A? These dupe masters wrote the 19A to stop Secretary Kerry from sending the US army, the same way JR wrote 13A to make Rajiv stop sending Indian troops. 19A, at the end, will go where the 13A went, when they see Secretary Kerry is gone in the next year American election.

    It did not start with 1978 constitution. As soon as D.S. took the power, camouflaging the bad started. It was well explained what the Tamils had be deported. It happened in the 1948 Soulbury constitution. The same model is working very well in many countries, including its mother country, UK. But is the mother of all trouble in Lankave. That was the one started Shobhasha in Lanakve. That is how every leader in Lanka advocated for the support to kill Tamil. So it ended only murderers, looters and rapist recruited as M.Ps.

    Their Father of the Nation is a manipulative crook. In American congress they observe strict dress code for congressmen. No summer cloth allowed. One of their Prime Minister W.Dahanake went to parliament in loin cloth. That is what you call ugly Self-respect-less Sinhala intellectualism! Because this clownish, party switching, leftist man is one of their another hero. Utter shame!

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