By Sujata Gamage –
We finally have some legislative language to start a discussion on electoral reforms. Kudos to the SLFP for doing a draft on the 97th day of the 100-day program. What was the government doing all this time is a good question, but, for the moment let us think positively and focus on improving the draft.
Frustrated by the lack of action by the government half-way into hundred day program, a group of us joined by CaFFEsrilanka.org started a campaign to jump-start electoral reforms using an evidence-based approach. The first workshop was held at Nagarodaya, Borella. The workshop was based on what-if simulations of results of the past four general elections for which variations of the method proposed in the 2007 interim report of the Parliamentary Select committee (PSC) on electoral reforms were applied.
The method proposed by PSC is what we called the MMM-LK method. In MMM or Mixed Member Majoritarian systems, the parliament is made up two components – the first-past-the post FPP component and the PR component.
To select the FPP component, slates of candidates are offered by parties for electorates in one or more of the 22 electoral districts. The difference from the ‘PR with Manape’ familiar to us in Sri Lanka is the fact that a candidate is designated for each electorate. There are no excess candidates except in the nominations for national-list MPs. Whether there should be a district list is not specified yet. At the polling station you would get a single ballot with the candidates for your electorate, say, Borella. You mark your preference with a single “X” and drop the ballot in the ballot box and you are done. The candidate who gets the most votes, even by a margin of one, gets elected for the FPP component. A variation of this procedure will apply to multi-member electorates.
The PR component is typically based on the results of a second ballot where you vote for the party of your choice. The Sri Lankan twist in the PSC method is that we have only one ballot (apparently, Taiwan started with one ballot before moving onto two). The tally of the votes cast in the FPP contest is also used to determine the PR component. The elections Commissioner allocates the PR seats to parties in proportion to the remainder votes or the total votes minus the votes of the FPP winners and those who got less than 5% of the vote in any electoral district. Since these votes are essentially votes received by the runners-up, the bulk of the PR seats go the best runners-up, with each party retaining some.
During past few weeks we also put forward what we called the MMP-LK or a mixed member proportional system based on the New Zealand electoral system. In MMP, you essentially begin with a PR parliament and then accommodate FPP winners within it. Overhangs are an inevitable part of the MMP systems. Methods to correct exist but, as we found out, politicians and officials are not comfortable with the overhang concept, even though MMP will yield a final composition of the parliament which is essentially the same as what we currently have. According to our analysis the MMM-LK too gives a result close to the 100% proportional result thanks to the remainder vote concept, another twist offered in the PSC method, and we feel MM-LK is just as good an alternative (although purists amongst us may be appalled).
What is the magic formula?
The original PSC formula was 140+70+25 = 225 for a 62% FPP component in a 225- member parliament. The 32% PR component is comprised of 70 District PR members returned on the basis of reminder votes and another 15 returned in proportion to the total votes. Small parties were not happy with a ratio 62:38. They felt it should 50:50.
The formula given in the draft amendment is an expanded one, with 165 FPP seats, 65 District-PR seats and 25 National List seats for total number of members in parliament at 255 (or 165+65+25=255) and an ‘apparent’ FPP:PR ratio of 64:36.
At first sight, the increase in size is disturbing, but, I think it is a is good compromise considering that the percentage of FPP MPs not much higher at 64%, and small parties, particularly, those representing geographically dispersed minorities such as Indian-origin Tamils (IOTS), is to be accommodated through multi-member seats and other tools. This will in effect decrease the ‘effective’ FPP:PR ratio.
Small parties will not be harmed, if the effective PR percent is increased through multi-member electorates.
In MMM, the relative size of the FPP component determines the nature of the parliament. The higher the FPP percent, higher is the FPP nature or majoritarian nature of the parliament. A major complaint about majoritarian systems compared to the current PR system is the fact that small parties cannot get any seats in FPP contest. For example, the 2010 general election yielded a parliament with 144 seats for UPFA, 60 for UNP, 14 for ITAK and 7 for JVP, with the present 90% PR with 10% bonus method. All other parties came through on the lists put forward by major parties that they were allied with. Judging by the vote count at each 160 polling divisions in the past four elections, none of the parties except UPFA, UNP and ITAK, and SLMC marginally, would have won first-past-the-post if they contested alone. In essence, if the proposed reforms are implemented and the voter behavior does not change significantly, only the UPFA, UNP and North and East Based Parties (NEBPs) such as ITAK and SLMC would have a showing in the FPP component, reducing the opportunities for small parties.
What exactly is a small party? Many parties or groups are registered with Elections Commissioner and they contest the elections, but, not all parties perform equally. If we take the results of four past general election results and exclude the governing party or alliance and the principal opposition party or alliance, we find 10 ‘small parties’ and one independent group securing seats in the parliament. These parties are broadly of three types in terms of their voter base.
Two of the more visible small parties are the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) which might be called ideological parties. During the past four elections, JVP secured a maximum of 10 seats and JHU a maximum of 7 seats. Since their voter base is a larger Sinhala-Buddhist constituency, if their ideologies are still attractive, these parties will continue to be represented in Parliament even under the proposed system, though in slightly smaller numbers, if past voting patterns persist.
Parties such as the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress represent geographically defined communities in the North and the East. Although SLMC also represents geographically dispersed Muslim communities to some extent, in term of its performance in the past elections, it has proved itself to be more of an Eastern Province based party. These NEBPs together account for 20-23 seats out of the 225 seats in parliament or about 10% of the seats, although they receive a little less than in term of total votes.. This is by virtue of district-wise determination of the number of members returned under the current PR system. These parties would not be affected unduly by the proposed reforms because they can win a substantial percent of the 20-30 FPP seats in the North and the East (and some of district-PR seats if their candidates lose some seats but do well as runners-up). NEBPs also would get several national-list seats.
Thirdly, we have parties such as the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), Up Country People’s Front (UCPF) and Democratic People’s Liberation Front (DPLF) representing geographically dispersed minorities such as Indian-origin Tamils (IOT). SLMC also belongs in this category, presumably representing dispersed Muslims. Judging by the votes received when SLMC contested on its own, the party received its highest percent of votes outside the Eastern Province in Harispattuva and Udunuwara electorates in the Mahanuwara District. It had a smaller presence in Colombo, Beruwela, Puttalam, Horowpotana, Welimada, and Mawanella electorates in six other electoral districts.
We estimate that the parties representing dispersed communities stand to lose the most under the proposed Amendment 20 and hence should be given protection in there by way of multi-member electorates.
Multimember electorates need to be defined more strongly
Take the case of Indian origin Tamils (IOTs) who are now dispersed across the Central Province and beyond. Under the PR system, leaders of IOT and Muslim communities have been able to negotiate with major parties to include their representatives in the candidate lists of these parties. They are able to negotiate because of their ability to tap into this district-wide voter base and they get a reasonable representation through these negotiations. Under the mixed member system, which is largely based on FPP contests in smaller electorates, the position of dispersed communities is weakened. An unfortunate outcome of proposed reforms, since dispersed communities, segments of the IOT community in particular, are among the most disadvantaged in our society.
The best solution for dispersed communities is a sufficiently large and appropriately defined number of electorates returning two or more members. These multi-members electorates are important for other communities such as Sinhalese who live in majority Tamil or Muslim areas as well. Caste issues too may still be relevant in some areas.
While the larger goal of any kind of reform should be the integration of ethnic communities into one Sri Lankan community, the path to integration should be marked by respect and concern for differences. Unless a sufficient number of multi-member electorates are created in Mahanuwara, Kegalle, Badulla and other districts, the IOTs, for example, may lose representation. Therefore, I believe that an increase in the number of FPP units and hence the total number of seats in parliament to 255 is justified IF the increase is used to accommodate those who might get marginalized under the new system.
The crucial article for IOT and other dispersed communities is the proposed new insertion in to Section 96Aof the constitution where it says “it is appropriate to create multi member electorates”, but the reason given as follows:
“In order to avoid the number of members entitled to be returned to represent any electoral district from becoming excessive, it is appropriate to create multi member electorates which are entitled to return more than one Member or the reasons that led to the creation of a multi member electorate in the past are still valid and applicable.”
The multi-member issue is presented in the above section more as a solution to a technical problem than a human problem. Another example is the clause which apparently is intended to avoid excessive creation of multi-member constituencies:
“Delimitation Commission shall have the power to create a multi member electorate or multi member electorates, as the case may be. The Delimitation Commission however, shall ensure that the number of multi member electorates created, shall be kept at a minimum level.”
In contrast the language in the now repealed 14th amendment to create zones is almost poetic. Under the Division of Electoral districts into Zone section in the 14th Amendment, dispersed communities are articulated as follows :
“a substantial concentration of persons united by a community of interest , whether racial, religious or such other like interest but differing in one or more respects from the majority of electors in that electoral district”
Inclusion of such language to define the beneficiaries of multi-member constituencies is a must in the proposed amendment 20A.
The devil is in the details
There are more details that need to be expanded or clarified in the draft amendment. For example, how are the district PRs seats to be awarded? What percent of the 65 district PR would go to the best runners-up and what percent would go to the parties? Will there be a district list or will there be additional persons in the National List designated for each electoral district? I hope to address those issues in the next few articles based on our analysis.