14 August, 2022


On Ranil’s Formula For Electoral Reforms

By Sujata Gamage

Dr. Sujata Gamage

Dr. Sujata Gamage

Issues for consideration in the latest 125+75+25 formula for electoral reforms

On 8th of June we were told that the cabinet had made the decision for a 225 MP legislature which will include 125 MPs elected under the first-past-the-post (FPP) system, 75 MPs under the PR system and 25 MPs under national list. Although not explicitly stated, the terminology suggests a mixed member majoritarian (MMM) system similar to that proposed in the 2007 report of Parliamentary Select Committee.

Not surprisingly, this announcement by the Cabinet was a bombshell for those who were learning to live with electoral reforms within a 255-member parliament where 165 members returned on a first past the post basis and an electoral architecture which is a variant of the mixed member proportional (MMP) system used in New Zealand.

Maithripala Vote Jan 8 2015As a policy analyst, my discipline has taught me that one should be prepared to respond to political winds, whichever direction they may blow. In fact, as early as March 2nd, a group of us with an interest in data and analysis in public policy started off a campaign at Nagarodaya, Borella, to bring a more broad-based analytical perspective to the reforms process. Since then we evaluated various combinations of FPP, district PR and national PR compositions of Parliament within the two basic architectures in electoral reforms – MMM and MMP. We found that most methods would work, but, each needed its own specific tinkering. Later, given arguments for difficulties in delimitation with less than 150 or 160 FPP seats and technical issues regarding the application of the MMP method which seemed to be the more politically feasible until a few days ago, our focus was increasingly turned to a 255-member Parliament.

One may not agree with the timing of the new formula with a 225-member Parliament, but it is better late than never, considering that the next election is very likely to be held under the old system, and we are looking at reforms that will come into effect years later. Without the specifics in hand it is difficult to critique the new proposal, but, we can look at some general principles until the specifics become available.

Arguments for a Parliament of 225 or less

The electoral reform debate has been largely about throwing formulas around for two limited purposes – (1) find an alternative to the ‘Manape Pore’ and (2) give the voters a chance a to elect a representative for their locality. Missing was a consideration of the fundamental role of parliamentarians.

Members of parliament are elected to be legislators who enact new laws and approve and monitor expenditure by state entities. Unfortunately, the image that has emerged over the years is a Parliament which consists of individuals whose only apparent function is to court popularity creating government jobs or donating roofing sheets, plastic chairs, compost bins and what have you with public funds. Some enriching themselves in the process. Only lately have we begun to monitor their legislative record. The legislative record of the current parliament until January 8th this year has been dismal. They passed the 18th amendment which went against the spirt of the constitution, hastily impeached a chief justice, but, failed to reduce the powers of the President or bring about electoral reforms as promised in the election manifestoes of the two major parties.

Even if electoral reforms are implemented, it will be a while before the attitudes of the electors change and more civic minded individuals are returned to the Parliament. Therefore how many MPs we really need is a technical issue as well as a popular sentiment. Some people argue for a drastic reduction using comparisons with India, but, a better approach is to look at our overall system of representation.

One good measure is the Number of MPs relative to the number of provincial councilors or the number of heads of local government bodies. We have seen too many cases of MPs overstepping their boundaries and getting into implementation issues that should be left to provincial councils or local government. While it is important for voters have a relationship with their MP, it is more important that increasingly they rely on their provincial councilor or local council member representing their ward. At 345 local authorities and 125 MPs ration of local authorities per parliamentary jurisdiction is cose to 3. At first sight, this seems like a good ratio, but, organizations like the Sri Lanka Institute for Local Governance (SLILG) and the Federation of Sri Lankan Local Government Authorities (FSLGA) should be consulted to find an optimum.

In terms of voters per polling divisions, 125 FPP units would mean an average of 120,000 voters per polling division. This ratio is still an improvement to the current ratio of 682,000 voters per electoral district which is the current electoral jurisdiction for parliamentarians.

The devil is in the details

The attorney General’s department is expected to submit a draft Amendment by Friday June 12th. My deepest sympathies are extended to the legal draftsmen who have deal with complex technical issues to present a draft within four days. According to media, the draft will go to the Cabinet and then to the Gazette. The Rhyming in the expression is attractive but the process is disturbing. For an amendment of a highly technical nature, the document should receive more scrutiny before being gazette, but, such is policy making in Sri Lanka. Barring any constitutional challenges, the bill will next go to Parliament where it will be pummeled into something which hopefully will address the pertinent issues. Summarized below is a set of issues the resolution of which will require a deft balancing of representation, integration and stability considerations in electoral reforms.

  • Can we accommodate a sufficient number of multi-member seats within the prescribed 125 FPP units
  • If the number of polling division is further reduced to 110-115 to accommodate multi-member seats, what kind of reductions can be expected for each electoral district?
  • Will there be sufficient representation for concentrations of minorities living amongst a majority in each district
  • Should we continue use caste considerations and resist amalgamation of historical polling divisions, in Galle, for example?
  • How will the 75 district PR seats be apportioned across 22 electoral districts?
  • Will the district PR seats be allocated on the basis of remainder votes or the total valid votes?
  • How many of those 75 seats are expected to be awarded to additional persons on district party lists.
  • Will the party lists be closed and ranked?
  • Will there be modalities for giving representation within the district PR quota for communities who are otherwise excluded representation in their districts/

In the final expected result:

  • Will there be sufficient representation for all communities?
  • Will the prescriptions for minority representation lead to the isolation of these communities from the mainstream?
  • Will one alliance or party be able to form a government under this method?

As a final question;

  • Why are we dismissing the adoption MMP system with 125 FPP?

As concerned citizens or professionals, we have no choice but to wait for the details and then influence the parliamentary process as best as we can. With so many issues the likely outcome is a postponement until the next parliament, whether we like it or not.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    125 is not feasible. 168 is the minimum.
    255 member parliament is realistic


    • 2

      Sujata Gamage –

      RE:On Ranil’s Formula For Electoral Reforms

      Whether it is 225 or 255, make the following Requirements.

      Sri Lanka Parliament cannot have Idiots, Modayas and Mootals.

      Right now, 93 of the MPs have NOT passed the GCE OL.

      Wimal Modawasa says, 2/2 =0, and most of these MPs accept that.

      So, two Additional Requirements.

      1. All MPs should have AT Least passed the GCE OL with 4 Credits, with pass in Mathematics.

      2. They Should have an IQ of 93 or above, when the General population has an IQ of 79.

      Thre are are least 7 Million Sri Sri Lankans with IQ of 93 and above. assuming a mean IQ of 79 and a standard deviation of 14.
      [Edited out]

      • 0

        Amare – The future aspirants to become as MPs also should be asked to write an essay on democracy and how it should be practised in Sri Lanka. I bet 70% will fail as what they have seen in our democracy so far are corruption,nepotism,thuggery, intimidation and one man rule. There are various types of democracy in the globe and this is how we practice our democracy.

        Its possible President Sirisena could insist on contestants
        to hold some kind of qualification fit for an MP. like Civics
        as a subject, passed in the GCE O Level, when they apply for nominations. He has already ruled out nominations for people
        who are tainted or indicted in a law court, which is a good

        Lets have a clean Govt, after years of agony ,with some new
        faces with a good educational and rural back ground like the
        current President has.

  • 0

    Sri Krish.
    If elections won’t be held under a new method, why pass something for the sake of passing? Why not explore alternatives? True we have been talking about electoral reforms, but, the MMP method which the President put forward came into the scene only 2-3 months ago. I don’t think the political parties or civil society groups are fully aware of the implications of the method.

    • 0

      The reason for enacting a constitutional amendment now is that if the SLFP and UNP can reach consensus there is a 2/3 majority in hand. Later this may be more difficult to ensure. The MMM system WITHOUT separate district lists (best runners-up get PR places), and NOT counting winner’s votes in sharing out district PR seats, is simplest and best. The confounded MMP system used in Germany and New Zealand with its hangovers (sic!) must be avoided like a drunkard’s bad night.

  • 0

    Dr.Sujatha addresses a timely topic in different scholarships is commendable. However, what I am worried about is the emphasis on multi-member seats and minority representation. Firstly, if muti-member seats are to represent minor ethnic groups, it is not the only tool to achieve it. For instance, I think the PR members can be appointed from the non-elected candidates through FPP (I wonder whether there is a provision for that in 20th amendment!). Next, I totally reject the minority representation through voting system simply because the geographical distribution of ethnicity in Sri Lanka is an absurd! (by the credit of our land policy since colonial administrations). Therefore, I think it would be better if we can suggest an advanced method of representation probably through political party organizations or through non-party members.

    • 0

      Arjuna Devendra,

      Why is the geographical distribution of ethnicity in Sri Lanka absurd? What is the connection you see in the land policy?


  • 1

    Dear Aruna Devendra;
    I talk about minority issues because it is about democracy. An electoral process that keeps out minorities or women is not a democratic process.

    In the short term we have to do ‘affirmative action’ to make our parliament more inclusive. That may also include giving into demands by parties representing minorities.

    In the long term we should aim for making ethnicity-based parties or women’s quota’s superfluous.

    Sujata G.

  • 0

    We appreciate the North and the East going through much hardship.mHowever there are problems of division and step motherly treatment to Estate Tamils and Baticola Tamils and Tamils of low caste. We must look at our own problems to. These paties must be given representation as they are dispersed in our island.
    The parties are given more power in electing members.

    Contributers to party funds have the ability to nominate party canditates . Some are drug, alcahol,gambling and smoking and ones who want favoured status in busineess dealings. We must be able to know the contributers to election funds. Can a fundemental case give us this information. M<edia interest also haqve much power. Legistlature to see that they are not patial is a must.

  • 0

    I think 235 is the best compromise.

    We should have 148 MPs under the first-past-the-post (FPP) system. That 148 should include 8 or less multi-member seats. Total number of polling divisions will be 148 (including multi-seats). This is a good compromise. We will only loose about 20 poling divisions.

    One MP seat should be allocated for each electoral district as a bonus seat. The bonus seat will be provided to the party that gets most number of votes in that district. This is important to have a strong government.

    The rest(65) will be given to the national list. Half of the national list can be allocated to the best losers. This provides an opportunity for small and minority parties to get some seats.

    We can use MMP system that has been suggested previously for seat allocation in each electoral district and use the national list for over hang seats.

  • 1

    This is basically a minority issue and strangely enough TNA has not come out with their statement whether this change will affect the Tamil areas nor they met the govt.on this matter. There are rumours floating around that Jaffna district will have reduced number of seats, tho’ people of the area had scattered to other parts of the country and to India and to other western countries due to war as refugees and their return is imminent. Minister Mangala samaraweera
    himself has already asked them to return to their mother land.

    TNA is more involved in dragging diaspora into our already existing,
    too many problems rather than trying to solve the immediate local problems affecting the Tamils of N/E by looking into the priorities like getting the Army’s presence restricted to the required level in N/E proportionately, instead of having one army personnel at every door
    step on an average, new drug menace, large scale unemployment, water
    contamination, assistance to people who got back their lands recently,
    to develop their lands, retake fertile lands cultivated by army despite
    orders given to quit,lawlessness and new projects in N/E to keep pace with developments in other provinces and country in general.

    By holding a candle to the Govt.,and maintaining stoic silence, what
    has the TNA achieved for the Tamils for the last six months, from the
    govt. in power. They should have seen to it that 13A is fully imple-
    mented and made into law,before the 19A.and a referendum is arranged to merge N/E as before. Have they spoken to the defence minister (President)to keep the army in barracks and para militias controlled during election time in order for people to vote in N/E peacefully. Tamils have suffered for well over six decades with several Sinhala leaders, abrogating the pacts entered with the Tamils from time to time and a good example was Banda/Chelva pact. What is the guarantee that TNA can give, that their golden silence will yield results after the election. Knowing the gullibility of the voters in the South, and not knowing which govt. will come to power, half the problems should have been solved and made into law by now before the next govt.takes control.

    Mr. Sampanthan is aging and there is a worry among the Tamil people,
    that trouble is brewing in TNA with two factions, one is a pro. govt.
    elite and the other consisting of ex militants. Same scenario happened
    in TULF, when SJV was frail and aging. TNA is warned that the Tamils
    will not anymore accept statements that the govt.in power betrayed us, if things go wrong for the Tamils, after the election.

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