By Varatharaja Perumal –
A Proposal Thought for New Electoral System
Due to the dissatisfactions owing to the misrepresentation of the First Past the Post (FPP) electoral system existed before 1978 and the bad experiences and distressing consequences of Proportional Representative (PR) electoral system, which gradually eroded the foundation of the democracy in Sri Lanka, a realization is now dominantly prevailing in the country that the elections should be held based on a combination the FPP and the PR systems. However, hitherto, there is no consensus among the political leaders on this yet.
Since the UNP received very less representation in the Parliament election of 1970 when compared to the proportion of votes it received throughout the country, it preferred the PR system through 1978 Constitution. The SLFP feels that as per the electoral results during the last two decades, it has the advantage if the FPP system is reintroduced and for the safe side, they demand immediate introduction of mixed electoral system. TNA particularly the Ilankaith Tamil Arasuk Kadchi (ITAK) is sure that if FPP system is reintroduced they will become virtually the only representative of the Tamils in the North-East. The SLMC, ACMC and Mr. Athaulla party, because of their inner (Muslims) community political rivalry and divisions, are in confusion as to supporting any particular system. The Ceylon Workers Congress is maintaining silence from voicing for any system because the Up-Country Tamils are not living in concentration in particular constituencies for FPP, and the Sinhala major parties are able to divide and rule them in PR. The parties that have comparatively smaller and sporadic support bases prefer to the PR system so that they will be able to muster the votes at least to secure one or two seats. Concerning the people and caring the democracy are secondary to the politicians looking forward their vested interests.
All the parties, willingly or unwillingly, are now forced into a situation where they have to accept a form of mixed electoral system. However, There seems to be unbridgeable differences of opinions amongst the major parties/alliances to come to a common design as to on what proportions the representations should be elected by the PR and the FPP, How to mix the both system and how the practical voting system is to be formulated whether the people have to mark the crosses or ticks for names of the parties, numbers of the candidates or names of the candidates or either two or one of them. Nothing is certain so far. Most of the SLFPers demand the UNP to accept the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Committee led by former Minister Mr.Dinesh Gunawardena and the next Parliament election to be held under the new system. But, the UNP wants a reasonable time to have a thorough look to make a new design. Nevertheless, it wants to go ahead to the coming Parliament election on the existing PR system.
Notwithstanding of above-said status of indecisiveness and confusions, the President Maithripala Sirisena seems that he does not want to make any hasty opinion and appropriately has requested recommendations and suggestions with regard to the reformation of electoral system, from the leaders of the political parties, social leaders and civil societies, etc. In response to this call, I prefer to present the following notes.
Before spelling out my suggestions towards combining FPP and PR system, I wish to outline the factors to be taken into consideration in deciding the new electoral system:-
- The existing system of voting is complicated and making the people to get confused. In addition, the present system makes difficult to introduce the Electronic Voting System (EVS). Therefore, the new system should facilitate the people to have a simple form of voting system, the voters to put one cross mark or stamp seal in one strike, which in future can pave the way for introducing the EVS. The burden of workloads regarding pre-nomination works is always on the shoulders of the parties and returning officers and that of deciding the results of the post-voting arithmetic has to be handled by the Election Commission.
- The ideological contradictions and differences in principles and perceptions are inevitable among different political parties. But, here the existing electoral system perpetuates the competitions in such a manner which causing conflicts and divisions among the candidates of the same party. In the democratic politics, free and fair competition is essential to a vibrant democratic process. Multi-party political system does not simply mean the existence of many parties but is an expression that such system accommodates different ideologies and perceptions in order to make sure that the political system of the country functions smoothly with unity in differences. But here, the existing system inevitably aggravates personal rivalries and enmities among the persons in the same party. Hence, the new electoral system should be formatted as it will enable each party to function with coherent and coordinated inner party command structure and unity among their supporters during the elections.
- According to the existing system, district is the basic Electoral Unit (EU) for Parliament election, except Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts that are made into one EU and Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullitive that are united as Vanni EU, whereas each of these districts are separate EUs for Provincial Council elections. From each EU, a number of members are elected to Parliament and Provincial Councils. In the present system, the elected members from each EU are together representing the area and population of the respective EU from where they are elected. Thereby, each member is made to have individually no specific duty or responsibility with regard to the socio political issues in or economic development of a particular area or population of such area. The public servants in the government administration in each area have to satisfy not simply one but many elected members on the same issue when they interfere or try to influence them. At the same time, the present system facilitates many members to comfortably skip themselves away mostly from their duty and responsibility to the people who elected them, while enjoying all the endowments, facilities and comforts given by the government from the public exchequer. The new system, therefore, should fix area of the constituency and the people to elect specific candidate for that constituency so that the elected member shall be responsible and answerable to the people of the constituency from where they are elected. The people of that particular constituency should be able to know well that who represent them in the Parliament or in the Provincial Council and who is the elected member responsible to looking after and taking care of their political, social and economic problems and difficulties.
- As per the existing system, the area and the population size for each candidate to campaign is so large that it compels the candidates and the parties to spend money and other resources in so much as to necessitate them to accumulate financial resources by any way or means of misappropriation and muster the other resources by hook or crook. Thereby, the main ground for frauds and corruption in politics is cultivated and the genuine candidates and honest parties are left to be surely defeated or forced to be out of the electoral contests. It does not mean that the FPP or any other non-PR system does definitely minimize the election expenditures of all the parties near to zero level nor shall the politicians be stopped from indulging in corrupt practices. Some of the main basic objectives of the expected new system of elections are that it should be able to reduce the election expenditure of the candidates and the parties as much as possible, to avoid inner party fights and conflicts and to enable the genuine parties and honest candidates to contest in the elections effectively with confidence. The EU with a limited area containing comparatively less population facilitates the candidates to campaign with the support of relatives, friends and personally known socio-political leaders within the limit of their familiar area and population. Hence, the candidates will be able to have door to door campaign and number of smaller meetings with hand bills and pamphlets in a few number of pages rather than going for costly cut outs and unaffordable posters and larger size public meetings. Moreover in such smaller EU, the local social organizations and community centers may show interests and largely take care of campaign expenditures and other needs of the candidates during the elections.
- In the multi-parties-based FPP system, mostly the members from the constituencies are elected by the votes less than 50 % of the polled. It is definitely a deviation to the basic democratic norms. The new system therefore must rectify such basic inappropriate practice when introducing the FPP electoral system.
- At present, the time is very short for the Delimitation Commission to re-demarcate the territory of the constituencies. Therefore, for the immediate purpose, a new mixed system should be formulated appropriately to successfully complete the forthcoming General Election.
My Proposal – Method of Voting and System of Election
Based on the above-said perception, I submit my proposal as following. As this writing of mine is an attempt to present a proposal of different idea to electoral reform it has become unavoidably a quite long to read. However, I request the learned friends to kindly put a little effort to appraise my attempt as the discussions on electoral reform is one of the urgent needs to propel the progress of democracy in Sri Lanka.
Electoral Units and Nominations
1. I, in fact, do not propose any arithmetical ratio as to how much seats are to be allotted to the FPP and to the PR. Instead, I propose not to approach separately but to apply both by a fusion.
2. As per the 1976 delimitation, 160 units of constituencies were demarcated to elect 168 members to the Parliament, some constituencies are multi-member constituencies such as Colombo-Central electorate and Nuwara Eliya-Maskelia electorate were to have three members each and Batticaloa and Poththuvil electorates were to elect two members each. According to the 1978 Constitution there are 225 members in Parliament including 29 members elected through the nomination of National Lists. Let the total membership to be elected to the next Parliament be the same 225 members. It is well and appreciable if the total members to the parliament can be increased at least by another 27 members or if the number of Constituencies can be reduced to become about 142 and keeping the total 225 members as it is, so that the ratio to be elected by the PR system can be increased. However, let us for the moment forget such increase or decrease and work out the new model as the existing 160 constituencies to elect 168 members continue. These constituencies should be the basic Electoral Units (EU). There are 25 administrative districts and 22 Electoral Districts (ED) since Jaffna and Kilinochchi are joined together as one ED and similarly Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu are also joined together to make another ED.
3. 160 members should be elected by FPP system and 8 members from multi-members constituencies as were elected in 1977. Out of balance 57members 22 should be elected as one member for each ED and other 35 members should be divided to all the Provinces according to their area and the size of voters.
4. Each constituency should be the basic electoral unit for contesting while each Electoral District (ED) will be the basic unit for filing nomination.
5. Groups of parties may form different electoral alliances among them through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in accordance with the guidelines of the Election Commission (EC). Such MOU should be submitted to the EC or District Returning Officer (DRO) before the date of filing of the nomination forms to the particular election. This MOU is essential to the EC for deciding the District Memberships (DM) and the Provincial Memberships (PM) to the parties, after counting the votes polled in the election.
6. The parties independently or in the name of electoral alliances may field their candidates specifically to contest in each constituency in some EDs or in all EDs in their own recognized symbols. In such contest, when an alliance fields its candidates, one or some parties in such alliance also may field their candidates, despite of their being a part of such alliance. However, the name of a candidate should not be in two separate lists of contestants.
7. The formation of alliance of parties should not prevent any party in such alliance from contesting to the constituencies, provided such party should file its nominations for all the constituencies in the ED where such party wants to contest in its name and symbol.
8. This is to encourage the political parties that they can form alliance with other parties while they can maintain their independent identity. It also facilitate the parties which think that they have more winning chance that contesting in the name of alliance. The said MOU is for giving advantage of their alliance.
9. Filing of Nominations of Candidates:
- For contesting in each electoral constituency, each party irrespective of its alliance or non-alliance with other parties and also each registered alliance having recognized common symbol may file a list of number of candidates specifically referred to as contesting for each constituency in the respective ED, with names and other details required by the EC.
- Not only the recognized alliances but also the parties in such alliances should submit before the DRO the MOU of their alliance with other parties when they file the nomination to the constituencies. This submission is necessary for EC post-counting arithmetic exercise.
- In addition, each alliance and party that contests for the membership of the constituencies should file an additional list consisting names of three persons in the order of preferences, before the DRO. This list is for the purpose of any contingency such as death of any candidate.
- Further, each alliance of parties and each non-aligned party should file before the DRO who is appointed by the EC as Provincial Election Officer (PEO) for each province, a list of candidates given in order of preference for electing Provincial Members of Parliament (PM).
- Here no party in an alliance should be allowed to file separate list for this purpose unless such alliance does not at all contest in any ED of the province where such party contests.
- Such list may contain only the names of the candidates who have already filed for contesting in the constituencies in the province or names of some of such candidates and the names of some non-contesting persons, or only the names of non-contesting persons.
- The total number of candidates to be listed in such list for each province should be determined by the EC.
- The names of the persons in such list should be listed in the order of preference.
- This list should be filed only by alliances or by the parties which are not at all in any alliance. A party in an alliance contesting to the constituencies in one or more ED may file this list provided its alliance does not contest in any constituency in the particular province.
The proposed method of voting is very simple as the voters should mark only one cross or tick or stamp the cross-seal in the box printed in the same line where the name of the candidate or the party and its symbol is printed.
11. Post – Poll Counting and Declaring Elected Members
Electing Member Specifically for Each Constituency
- First of all, the votes polled in favour of each candidate contested in each constituency should be counted separately.
- If a candidate contested for particular constituency obtains more than 50% of the total votes polled in the constituency, such candidate should be declared elected.
- In case no candidate gets more than 50%, then along with the votes obtained by the first two candidates who have got larger number of votes in the constituency, the votes obtained by the candidates of the allied parties contested in the same constituency should be added and the candidate who, after such counting, obtains majority votes (more than 50%) should be declared elected. The unity of the alliances is here upheld and votes polled for the defeated candidates do not go waste but become useful to their alliance.
- If it is a two member constituency the second member who has got larger votes in such counting should be declared elected. If it is a three member constituency such counting should be exercised with the first three members who obtain comparatively larger number of votes in the first counting and declared elected accordingly.
- Thus, in total 168 members should be declared elected
Electing District Members and Provincial Members of Parliament
District Membership (DM):
- Total number of DM is proposed to be 22 .i.e. One DM should be allotted for each ED.
- The party which gets larger proportion of the votes in the ED but lesser number of seats elected by the constituencies when compared to its entitled number of seats to the proportion of the votes polled for it the DM of the particular ED should be allotted by the EC to such larger party , to fill such gap.
- In case a party or an alliance contested for the constituencies wins equal or more number of seats from the constituencies by FPP method than its entitled number of seats to its proportion of total votes obtained in the ED should not get any additional seat for the DM. In such situation, the DM should be allotted by the EC to the party that gets in total second larger votes from all the constituencies in the ED.
- However, the DM should be allotted to the first among the defeated members, .i.e. Out of the defeated members belong to such party contested in the ED, the member who gets larger proportion of the votes polled in the constituency where he contested when compared to such proportion of votes obtained by other defeated members of the same party or alliance should be declared elected as the DM of the particular ED.
Provincial Membership (PM)
- Total number of PM is 35. The EC should allot minimum 3 to maximum 5 membership to each province by giving certain preference to the population size of the provinces
- In case an alliance contested for the Constituencies wins equal or more number of seats in total from the constituencies by FPP method than it is entitled to its proportion of total votes obtained in the province in total, such alliance should not get any additional seat for the PM.
- In such situation, the PM should be allotted by the EC to the next larger parties according to the ratio of votes they receive in total in the province. Accordingly the members to be elected for PM should be selected from the Provincial List of Nominations filed by the alliances.
- In counting such total, all the votes polled in favour not only of that alliance but also the total votes polled in favour of the parties in the alliance contested separately in the constituencies in the province should be added together.
12. This is An Interim One – Permanent is Possible after Delimitation
When different parties stand with different ratios to FPP and PR, it is impossible to design any workable electoral system combining both methods in a few weeks or months. If the membership to be elected by FPP is to be reduced the re-demarcation of constituencies should be worked out by the Delimitation Commission after thorough studies and making compromise and consensus among various political parties and social sections. It is well known that the re-demarcation of constituencies is not so simple to do by mere cut and paste method since so much of political and social sensitivities are involved in it. I, therefore, have presented here my recommendations as detailed above to apply both FPP and PR appropriately for the immediate purpose, without proposing to make any major changes on the ground but with the appropriate arithmetic exercises to be done within the boundary of the Election Commission.
Best way is to make the 20A quickly compatible to push the 19A timely forward.
*Varatharaja Perumal -Former Chief Minister of North-East Province