10 August, 2022


Minority Representation Through The 20A

By Shermal Kelambi

Shermal Kelambi

Shermal Kelambi

The 20th amendment to the constitution seem to be hardly moving is at all. A major obstacle in its path is the objections of the minor parties in fear of being marginalized under a future system. The purpose of this article is to see to what extend their fears are true.

The discussion will be held under a few sub topics:

  1. Sri Lankan demographics
  2. Present parliament composition
  3. Past four election results
  4. Fixing the minority issues
  5. Two ballot system
  6. Ideological minority parties

Sri Lankan demographics

Before talking about minority representation, let’s have a look at the Sri Lankan demographics. Sri Lanka has a 75% Sinhalese majority, 15% Tamils and 9% Muslims. Under ideal conditions if these numbers are to reflect in the parliament, there should be 169 Sinhalese MPs, 34 Tamil MPs and 20 Muslim MPs. However the present parliament has only 28 Tamil and 18 Muslim MPs which is roughly 20% of the total representation of the Sri Lankan parliament.

Tamil Vote Photo CREDIT- REUTERS:DINUKA LIYANAWATTEA 20% representation in parliament for a 25% minority (within a system of 22 bonus seats to district winners and in a country with more than half of the minorities are geographically dispersed), it is almost close to perfection. Therefore the desire for the minority parties to hold on to the current system is understandable. Their main fear seems to be concentrated on the FPP part of the proposed 20th amendment (which is a modified MMP system). The FPP will put the geographically dispersed minorities at a disadvantage, that is their main argument. But how fair is this argument when the 165 FPP seats are all incorporated within a 196 PR allocation?

Another aspect of the debate is the national list. Present parliament has 29 national list seats and out of them 8 are occupied by minority MPs (5 Tamils and 3 Muslims).

That is around 27.5% of all seats. This is more or less similar to the demographic representation. However there is no fixed number for the national list in the proposed 20th amendment, but a 59 national reserve buffer, of which, a part will be deducted to compensate for the overhang FPP seats. So the national list seat number can usually fluctuate between 25-35 and in extreme situations can even go beyond this range.

Present parliament composition

Now let’s look from where the 46 minority MPs of the present parliament come from. In fact 9 of them come from Jaffna, 6 from Vanni, 5 from Batticaloa, 3 from Digamadulla. 2 from Trincomalee and 5 from Nuwara Eliya. So 30 out of 46 MPs come from just 6 districts, while there are 8 coming from the national list and in fact these 8 actually come from 4 districts as 4 from Kandy, 2 from Colombo, 1 each from Kegalle and Badulla.

There are 12 out of 22 electoral districts that do not return a single minority MP. A main feature of these 12 are that in all 12 of them the majority Sinhalese community accounts for more than 70%.

Of these, 5 district – Gampaha, Galle, Matara, Hambantota and Monaragala – the Sinhalese account for more than 90% and there is not a single minority group having a representation over 5%. Understandability, minority representation in the parliament from these 5 districts is a near impossibility.

The other 7 districts which fail to return a single minority MP are, Kalutara, Matale, Kurunagala, Puttlam, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Ratnapura. Except for Puttalam in all other 6 districts the majority Sinhalese population is over 80% and there is not a single minority community with over 10% population within that given district. Puttalam is the only exception to this rule with a 74% Sinhalese and 19% Muslim population. But out of the 8 MPs there is not a single Muslim MP for Puttalam and in fact, the last time Puttalam had a minority MP was way back in 1977 (M.H.M. Neina Marikkar for Puttalam electorate) under the FPP system. It seems like the PR system to which the minority parties are trying hard to cling on to, is not so fair to them at all places.

There is the exceptional case of Mr Kabir Hashim from Kegalle who secured 48,822 or 12.57% out of the total votes polled for that district as preferential votes in the 2010 election while the total Muslim population the district is only 7%. Given the prominence of MP Kabir Hashim within the UNP, he is capable of attracting votes from majority Sinhalese as well. Therefore, it is safe to assume that unless in a special occasion where a nationally prominent leader of a leading political party contests (as in Kegalle) the chances of a minority MP electing out of a minority community of less than 10% in a given district is quite slim.

Having said that, the present system over represents the minorities at times. For an example the Vanni electoral district (combination of Vavuniya, Mulativu and Mannar districts) has a 83.9% Tamil population, 8.2% Muslim population and 7.7% Sinhalese population. But in 2010 election while the 83% Tamil community returned 3 MPs to represent them, the 8.2% Muslim community also returned 3 MPs from Vanni.

A less dramatic thing occurred in Kandy with a 74% Sinhalese, 11% Tamil (5% Sri Lankan Tamils and 6% Indian Tamils) and 14% Muslim community, Kandy district returned 8 Sinhalese MPs and 4 Muslim MPs. The Muslim MPs were 33% of the total MP count for the district even though they were just 14% of the population.

Past four election results

Details in three tables are given here. following is the analysis

Table 1 gives the results for district level minority representation.

Table 2 gives the results for the national list minority representation.

Table 3 combines the above two and gives the total parliament minority representation.

Summarizing the charts, the district level PR representation for Tamils has been from 10.17 – 14.79% with lowest in 2000 and highest in 2004. The district level PR representation for Muslims has been from 7.65 – 9.18% with lowest in 2004 and 2010 and highest in 2001. The overall minority representation have been 18.87% in 2000, 2001 and 2010 while it was 22.44% in 2004.

The national list representation for Tamils have been 17.24% in 2000 and 2010 while in 2001 and 2004 it was 24.13%. the Muslim representation in national list is lowest in 2010 with just 10.34% and highest in 2001 with 27.58%. the overall minority representation in national list has fluctuated from the lowest of 27.58% in 2010 to the highest of 55.17% in 2001.

In the overall parliamentary composition, Tamils had a 11.55% representation in 2000 (lowest) to a 16.00% representation in 2004 (highest). Muslim representation reached the lowest of 8.00% in 2010 from the highest of 11.55% in 2001. The combined minority representation in parliament has fluctuated between 20.00 – 26.22% with the lowest in 2010 and highest in 2004.

Fixing the minority issues

To allow for the minorities to have the same amount of representation I wish to suggest 10 multi-member poling divisions.

1. Colombo Central – Muslim

2. Colombo North – Sri Lankan Tamil

3. Beruwala – Muslim

4. Harispaththuwa – Muslim

5. Nuwara Eliya – Indian Tamil

6. Maskeliya – Indian Tamil

7. Batticaloa – Sri Lankan Tamil/Muslim

8. Samanthure – Sri Lankan Tamil/Muslim

9. Puttalam – Muslim

10. Passara – Indian Tamil

With these 10 multi-member polling divisions, the (20th amendment proposed) new MMP election system will return following number of MPs for each ethnicity out of the 165 FPP seats.

15 Sri Lankan Tamils or 9.09% of 255; 14 from North and East
9 Muslims or 5.45%; 5 from North and East
4 Indian Tamils or 2.42%; 3 from Nuwara Eliya
The additional district PR seats that they are entitled to will return:

20 Sri Lankan Tamils or 10.2%); with 5 PR seats all from North and East
12 Muslims or 6.12%; with 3 PR seats all from North and East
5 Indian Tamils 2.55% with 1 PR seat from Nuwara Eliya

Therefore there will be 18.87% (37 MPs) minority representation at the district level. (Which is same as 2000, 2001 and 2010 results)

However this equation does not count Mr. Kabir Hashim from Kegalle who is a promising winner. And I also think there is a possibility for 1 additional Muslim MP from winning in both Kandy and Colombo.

Then the Muslim MP numbers increases to 15 (7.65%) which is the 2010 result and the total minority numbers goes up to 40 MPs (20.4%) which is better than 2000, 2001 and 2010 results and almost close to the 2004 result where the minorities did their best.

The national list seats will be offered to the minority members through the various alliances and understandings and just like they found a way to negotiate with the major parties in the present system, minority parties will continue to find a way to deal with the national list seats and get a larger percentage to compensate for their loses at the district level.

Two ballot system

Another compensation for the minority issue is to introduce a two ballot system as it is done in almost all the countries with a MMP system. Then the minority voters can cast the individual vote for a candidate of a major party (that represents the majority ethnicity of that polling division) who has a better chance of winning the poling division, but can vote for his/her minority party through party vote to win a seat at the district level to their ethnicity.

Ideological minority parties

An often forgotten group in the election reform discussion is the ideological minority parties like JVP and JHU, who also represent 5-10% of the population. These groups are more geographically dispersed than any ethnic minority and the FPP system is going to be most disadvantageous to this group (there is no way of these parities wining a single polling division under the present political situation). Therefore any over correction of the FPP system to suit the ethnic minorities will inevitably correct it at the expense of these minor parties.

For the ideological minority parties like JHU and JVP, the two ballot system will be even more beneficial as they are the most geographically dispersed group in our political landscape.

Therefore in conclusion, 20th amendment will not put the ethnic minorities at a disadvantage as long as enough multi-member polling divisions are created. The Muslims have a slight over-representation in the present system and they will lose that, but the Tamils will do better than they are now. A two ballot system will favor the minority parties even better and it will be of great advantage to the ideological minority parties.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Hi Shermal Kelambi,
    Looking at your hairstyle you looks like a young Sri Lankan. Below I have given a link for the CT readers and you to listen to Obama’s session with young leaders from SEA countries.

    Please pay particular attention after the 40 th minute. Why ? Because he elaborates how some countries become developed and others do not. How one SEA country made the diversity into strength because of the leadership and the government standing by their principles. He also emphasises that politics based on race and religion will not allow any country to develop to its potential.

    Unfotunately in Sri Lanka the political parties, their leadership and the governments since 1948 have failed the Country and her people.

    Even in the forthcoming elections the political parties will bring race and religion and to whom the country belongs as major issues and thus to maximise the support in the South to come to power. Ape rathu sahotharaya Pak Aya Vasu ( Paka big brother – Bandula approved meaning) together with characters like DJ, HLDM, MALINDA, SHAMINDRA, CARL & others wants MR to come back to rule the country.


    The President Speaks with Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Fellows

  • 2

    SLFP are taking a firm stand. However we must listen to the voice of the peole. Women representation is a sore point. There gas to be provision for it. Let the SLFP solution satnd Allow for the nominating of a decided number of members by the president to balance ethnic and gender issues. They could be chosen from provincial council and pradeshiya sabha being peoples representetives. A quick fix is needed. It may even be possible to have a solution for this election only.

  • 4

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 4

    Sri lanka should never allow political power to be developes as minorities.

    where does it exist except in India.

    those whole western world has only one team.

    Similarly, Sri lanka should have only Sri lankans, if not it should be Sinhala.

  • 2

    The curse of the minority Tamils is the curse of being divided as Sri Lankan Tamil and Indian Tamil. The author is totally wrong in dividing the Tamils this way. This is the curse that has been brought by the “Jaffna Man” to the “Indian Coolies”. Time has changed and there are no more Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka with voting rights. All the Tamils are Sri Lankan Tamils. There should be an act in the Parliament passed to recognize this. The author looks like an educated person but has displayed his bias uneducated outlook. Dividing Tamils is stupidity and above all its a crime. All the Tamils speak one language “Tamil”.

  • 3

    I agree with Mr.Ranil Wijesekara on the women representation, which is a long delayed fact, making us trail behind even less developed countries in the world. The purpose of this article was to get the minority issues sorted out, but the gender representation is equally important in the reform process..

  • 2

    A very good commentary and analysis. MMR cannot be properly implemented unless there are TWO ballot papers – one for the candidate and the second only for a party on a country wide basis. This will help the dispersed minorities. In a New Zealand election, a minority party did not get a single elected candidate but obtained 6 % of the party vote and hence got 6 % of the seats in parliament.

  • 3

    I totall disagree with this whole concept of dividing the electorate.
    The President was inspirational when he said we are and should think and act as Sri Lankans.We need to pay heed to Obama a minority ethnic American.Divided we Fall!Why not elect according to merit- proven ability, integrity,intellectual attainement,unblemished personal and public character and so on.The President promised to give nomination to candidates who fit the any job description on being elected President.Will all other party leaders follow suit?Worst criteria for election are Race,Religion,Gender,color, Physical disability and other similar.But for above to be acceptable ALL STAKEHOLDERS HAVE TO ACCEPT AND ACT WITH THE SAME NEW MENTALITY. Probably my Aging Idealism!

  • 1

    A striking feature of the First-Pass-The-Post (FPTP) system of electing Members of Parliament, that existed until the introduction of the new Constitution in 1978, was the election of Muslim MP’s from predominantly Non-Muslim Electorates and the ready support extended to Non-Muslim Candidates by Muslim Voters in all electorates. Muslims voted for Candidates, irrespective of race or religion, who won their confidence of being able to safeguard and protect the interests of their Community inside and outside the Legislature. Muslims voted with their heads in the belief that ‘What is good for the Country, is good for me’.

    Then came the Proportional Representation (PR) system which compelled many would-be MP’s to adopt a partial attitude towards the Majority Community in their desperate bid to attract and hold Preference votes. The National Parties abdicated their responsibilities to the Muslim Community leaving the Muslims with the feeling that their interests would be best looked after by Muslim Candidates. Into this breach stepped the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), which was formed in September 1981 and formally inaugurated as a political party in November 1986. This was a defining moment in Buddhist – Muslim relations. Circumstances were pushing the Muslim Community towards supporting candidates from Muslim Political Parties which subsequently mushroomed. This was definitely not an inherent, dormant need of Muslims in Sri Lanka.

    In it’s initial appearance at a General Election in 1989, the SLMC, which was then the only Muslim Political Party, contested for the first and last time in 13 electoral districts under it’s own brand name. It won the support of just a little over 32% of the estimated number of Muslim Voters in these 13 districts. In it’s heartland, comprising the three districts of the Eastern Province, it garnered a little under 50% of the estimated number of Muslim Votes. Five years later, at the 1994 General Elections, the popularity of the SLMC in the Eastern Province remained more-or-less the same. However, 10 years on, the SLMC reached the zenith of it’s popularity in the Eastern Province by attracting the support of around two-thirds of the estimated number of Muslim Voters in that region at the 2004 General Elections. The decline set in thereafter. The results of the Provincial Council elections conducted in the Eastern Province in 2012 revealed that only an estimated 37% of Muslim Voters had cast their votes in favour of the SLMC. This would mean that at this point in time around 2 in every 3 Muslim Voters in the heartland of the SLMC would either favor a non-Muslim Political Party or would not cast their votes at a National Election.

    An examination of the combined performance of the Muslim Parties (not just the SLMC) in 2014 – at the height of the anti-Muslim agitations when the Muslim Community felt most vulnerable – throws into focus the perceptions of Muslims regarding these Muslim Political Parties. At the Western Provincial Council Elections in 2009 and in 2014, the estimated share of Muslim Votes garnered by all Muslim Parties decreased from 18% to 17%. This suggests that even at a time of great personal danger, 5 out of every 6 Muslim Adults in the Western Province did not deem it fit to vote for a Muslim Political Party. The final nail in the coffin was the performance of these Muslim Parties at the Uva Provincial Council Elections in 2014 for which all the Muslim Parties had decided to join forces and contest under one umbrella Party for maximum results. At the end of the day, out of an estimated 40,000 Muslim Voters , only 5045 voted for this grand coalition of Muslim Parties. This meant that about 7 out of every 8 Muslim Voter in this region had rejected the Muslim Parties at a time when the activities of the anti-Muslim groups were at a peak.

    Under these circumstances, how correct is it for these Muslim Political Parties to claim that they ‘represent’ the interests of the Muslim Community ?
    Why are they adding their voice to the demand that the interests of the various ‘Minority Groups’ (which includes the Muslim Community) be safe-guarded in the proposed Electoral Reforms, when the vast majority of Muslims do not perceive these Muslim Political Parties as their ‘political guardians’ ?
    In doing so, are the Muslim Political Parties only attempting to ensure that they will be guaranteed of a specified number of seats in any future Parliament without expending too much political energy ?
    With declining numbers of Muslims voting for such Muslim Parties, will this result in low-grade politicians being elected to Parliament on the Muslim ticket ?

    The above analysis of voting patterns also gives lie to the popular belief that Muslims vote only for Muslim Candidates at National Elections. Ask any member of the Majority Community and he or she will promptly declare that this is true. Such thinking only serves to justify their decision to vote for candidates from their own Community. The perpetuation of this fallacy has benefited all Political Parties. The Muslim Political Parties have used it and are continuing to use it to boost their own flagging image nationally and internationally. The National Political Parties, specifically the UNP and the SLFP, are happy to accept this position so that their candidates are at liberty to bring the full force of their limited resources to bear on the non-Muslim voting Public – which is so essential to maximize their Preference votes.

    The net result of all these phenomena is that the schism between the members of the Majority Community and the members of the Muslim Community continues to deepen and widen, sharpening further the ‘Us vs Them’ syndrome.

    The Muslims have and will always vote for candidates who, in their opinion, will look after the interests of the Muslim Community – specifically, the non-violation of the basic need of Muslims for Physical Safety. The ethnicity and religion of such candidates do not matter to a Minority Group which constitutes less than 10% of the total population. It is time for the National Parties to once again, as in the pre-1978 period, ensure that there are in their ranks, men and women of standing who can regardless of their race or religion, win the confidence of the Muslim Community.

    Have the voting patterns of the Muslim Community to date indicated a felt need among the Sri Lankan Muslims for Electoral Reforms along ethnic lines ? Or are the Muslim Political Parties attempting to use the process to ensure that an optimal number of seats are allocated to them ?

  • 0

    An effort is being made to prevent the anti corruption drive of the President. The oppersition will take over and also prevent the appointment of the Constitutional council. The 20A will be passed and a delay till the delimitation commission will follow. A solution is needed now. A one time solution is needed.
    The Ammendment could have two components. The duly elected members could be from the constituencies on 1st past the post. For district and national as per now it could be PR. The additional members should be appointed by the president, constitutional council and members who lost but received sizeble votes as there standing in a PR basis in electrates where minority in ethnicity , gender or party. The next system should be passed with flexibility in form after the new election.
    Do not allow procarstination or stopping of anti corruption drive. Despite a corrupt election a massive mandate was received for it.

  • 0

    Dr. Kermal,
    Thanks for taking the time to analyze this issue.

    Those who represent geographically dispersed populations are rather different from those who represent who represent districts with large majorities of one group – the former are more accomodating, are more capable of coalition building, and are more responsive to the particular issues of the geographically dispersed. This goes for all types of minorities – Hill country Tamils, Catholics, Muslims outside the East, the Leftists, Sinhala Nationalists and the women among them.

    That aside, two issues that I cannot sort out from your analysis is
    1. What about the seats beyond the 165 + 10 MM constituencies that you write of – the proposals are for the total seats to rise up to 255? The additional seats are to be allocated on population increases – in this event, do you need to look into how that shall play out given the large shortfalls in minority voter registration outside of the North and East?
    2. if the allocation of additional seats is decided based on population, then will the North and East districts lose seats as they have dropped registered populations (and registered voters) while others have gained, or at minimum lose out on allocation of additional seats. The drop in population particularly in the North is not because these folks have given up on citizenship.

    Of relevance to both, these issues is that
    a. it may be that that the number of MP’s for each minority are the same as prior to 2010 but if their proportion drops then they lose influence particularly the power to influence constitutional amendments that can damage basic rights enshrined for all.
    b. there are big changes in voter registration between 2000 and the present.

  • 0

    ” Under ideal conditions if these numbers are to reflect in the parliament, “

    Hogwash. Parliament does not represent ethnic interests ONLY. Those who ONLY represent such a narrow political agendum would be called racists, and quite rightly too. It is a sad fact of life that there are such representatives in our parliament.

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