By Sujata Gamage –
Two clear choices have emerged in electoral reforms. One is the mixed member majoritarian (MMM) method proposed by the Parliamentary Select Committee and drafted as the 20th amendment by the SLFP. A second option based on the MMP method as practiced in New Zealand too has emerged. Interestingly both methods have the new concept of a party list at the district level.
In the case of the MMM method put forward by the SLFP, a party list at the district-level is given as an option. However, in the alternative MMP system, a party list at the district level is essential to deal with overhang and underhang situations normal in MMP systems. In fact, out of a proposed 255 member parliament, 59 members (or 255 minus the current 196 district-wise PR seats) or more can be returned from party lists. In other words nearly 25% of the members of parliament will be composed of party list nominees!
This increased role of the party in nominating members of parliament is a total new development in electoral reforms and should receive the attention of civil society.
Party-lists are a good thing. The familiar national list is indeed a party-list at the national level. It gives a party the option of bringing those individuals who may not initially fare in elections, but, contribute to legislative functions of the parliament, or make up for gaps in representation for ‘communities of interest’. In fact, Article 99A in the constitution gives the Election commissioner the authority to “request the Secretary of such recognized political party or group leader of such independent group in so nominating persons to be elected as Members of Parliament to ensure as far as practicable, that the representation of all communities is commensurate with its national population ratio”.
We are not sure whether the requests are made, or parties oblige if such are made, because, of the very practical ‘practicality clause’. However, we can use the new opportunity we have to make the party-lists more democratic and representative, to increase women’ representation, for example. Let us see how.
Party lists in in SLFP proposal based on PSC recommendations
Take the mixed member majoritarian method proposed by the SLFP. It gives a place in the nomination paper for additional persons to fill the gap between the number of MPs allocated to a district and number of FPP members to be returned by a district. For example, if Monaragala is entitled to return 5 members but the district has only three electorates, the party nomination paper will have three candidates contesting each electorate and two additional persons.
Article 99(4) in SLFP Amendment 20: A recognized political party or a group of persons contesting as independent candidates (hereinafter referred to as an “independent group”) may for the purpose of any election of Members of Parliament, submit a single nomination paper setting out the number of members being nominated to the represent the polling divisions of each electoral district, and also setting out the number of additional members to be elected for such electoral district on the proportional representation system based on remaining votes, which is equivalent to the number of members to be elected for such electoral district. The names of the candidates contesting in each poling division shall be specified in a single nomination paper.
It should be noted that a clause without additional-persons option is also given as an alternative in the SLFP’s draft of amendment 20.
In the selection of individuals to be returned for these additional places, Article 99(10) allows up to 50% of those additional seats to be given to additional persons.
Article 99 (10)in SLFP Amendment 20: Under the proportional representation system based on remaining votes, the party secretary or the leader of the independent group shall in accordance with its entitlement, inform the Election Commission of the nomination of the members to be elected out of the candidates who contested at polling divisions. Not less than half of such members to be nominated shall be those who have contested at polling divisions but have not got elected and who have obtained the highest percentage of votes in the respective polling divisions, and shall be nominated beginning from the candidate who obtained the highest percentage to the lowest. Other members entitled from each party, may be nominated out of those candidates who have contested at polling divisions but failed to get elected or out of additional candidates who have not contested at polling divisions.
In the case of Monaragala district, for example, if party A wins all FPP seats and party B gets the two additional seats, either two best runners-up or one best runner-up and one person from the additional persons list of Party A will go to parliament. The party will make that decision, it seems.
Party lists in the alternative MMP or mixed member proportional method
The concept of a MMP method where you begin with a 100% PR parliament and accommodate FPP MPs within has been discussed for some time. Overhangs or underhangs are part and parcel of MMP methods. As I pointed out previously, initially, the concept of overhangs was a put-off for politicians or officials, but, now the concept is becoming more acceptable. The MMP method is particularly attractive because the final result of the parliament or distribution of 196 district seats among the parties will be calculated as now proportionate to the votes received, but, 160 or so candidates who come first at 160 or so polling division will be guaranteed a place in the parliament. That leaves 85 additional seats in the parliament to be allocated. Without going into details, it would suffice to say that method will not work in Sri Lanka where 22 electoral districts have a set number MPs allocated to each, unless, we have a flexible method of allocating these additional seats. The proposed MMP method will end up allocating the additional 85 seats, with roughly 1/3rd of going to best runners-up, 1/3rd going to district level party list nominees and 1/3rd to national level party-list or national list nominees.
In essence, with either method we will end up with up to 59 out of 255 or nearly a quarter of parliament consisting members unelected but nominated by parties.
There are two ways to look at fattened party-list. One is fear that these lists will be filled with cronies. The other is to view it as a unique opportunity to get representation for women and others who do not get listed as FPP candidates.
Making party list work better in MMM or MMP methods
The additional party-list at the district level can be made more representative in two ways.
Women’s representation should be assured in the district party list
As I pointed out earlier, Article 99A stipulates that as far as practicable, the national list should commensurate with national population ratio of any community, ethnic or otherwise. Although not explicitly stated, the national list is already used to some extent to give recognition to unrepresented castes and other groups in the parliament. With smaller electorate making it possible for castes to be represented (or even with the hope that caste issues are on the decline), it is time to focus on the community which most unrepresented in the parliament –the women of Sri Lanka. Therefore, we suggest the following additions.
ADDITION TO Article 99 (4): Fifty percent or more of such nominated persons shall be women.
ADDITION TO ARTICLE 99 (10): Every other additional candidate who is to be nominated shall be a woman.
Although the new provision in Article 99(10) makes it imperative that the parties think ahead and add sufficient women in their candidate list in Article 99(4), you do not want parties to find that they don’t have sufficient women when they get a chance to nominate them. Therefore it is best that a quota be enforced as in Article 99(4) when persons nominated to be candidates.
Bios of party list nominees at district level should be displayed prominently
If party lists are to be used at the district level as well, it is important that information about these lists are made public in the form of a 500 word bio per each party list nominee, listing his/her special attributes or achievements and why such should benefit district wise in the case of district-level candidates and at the national level for national list candidates. These bios should be made available in all three languages — (1) on the Election Commission’s web site for all party nominees, and (2) displayed prominently in all DSDs offices, and branch offices of the Election Commission and (3) each polling station, for district level party list nominees.