By 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.
As 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.