By Kumar David –
My MR-GR supporter friends and my Gota besotted relatives are adamant that they must win a two-thirds majority in the elections slotted for about May. They are after a constitutional amendment, but when I ask them what they want they become hazy. 19A has made the PM powerful at the expense of the President, so do they want an all-powerful Presidency as during JR’s tenure reducing MR to a pantaloon? “No” some say, especially the politically savvy who trust MR more than GR. The middle-class segment however is chauvinist and more enthusiastic about GR than MR and more militaristic in its loyalties. SLPP parliamentarians are MR-friendly because that’s the gravy-train; a militarised administration may come in conflict, down the road, with Ministers and MPs thirsting for gravy. In Egypt and Pakistan however the military after climbing into power was more gravy-hungry than venal politico.
A constitutional amendment to repeal key elements of 19A would enhance presidential power and ipso facto also strengthen GR at the expense of MR; letting 19A stand would confirm the opposite. Then there is the question of repealing the prohibition on term-limits. Repeal would allow MR to contest at the next opportunity (end of GR’s term or sooner if he quits and the amendment allows fresh elections soon). But this too will cut both ways; sauce for MR is sauce for GR. Without term-limits both MR and GR are eligible for a Papa Doc or Mugabe-like ‘from this time forth and even for ever more’, in perpetuity power grab.
19A is far from perfect; it suffers from shortcomings in text and inadequacies in the extent to which it relegates post-Sirisena presidents to a ceremonial role. (The limited powers allowed to that nincompoop created turmoil and allowed malpractice on a large scale in the dying year of that administration). What Lanka will be safest with is a 100% parliamentary system with a 100% ceremonial head of state as in India or the UK. A US type tripod balance of power constitutional arrangement will not work here because institutions are weak and checks on power abuse pathetic. So for now let the sleeping dog 19A lie; messing with it will make things worse.
There is another issue that needs to be tackled and that too, I presume, will need fiddling with the constitution. (Maybe it can be done by subsidiary legislation?). Our all-proportional electoral system must be changed to a mixed system where most legislators (and provincial and local government representatives) are elected in first-past-the-post (FPTP) constituency elections while a lesser number are chosen on a proportional representation (PR) basis.
An example is Germany. Bundestag (parliament) elections give each voter two votes. One for a constituency candidate elected on FTTP and the ‘second’ for a party list in each district. List-seats are then modified to maintain “proportionality balance” in the Bundestag as a whole – seems complicated. Other countries have variations and gerrymandering is engineered into the definition of “proportionality balance”. Should district seats be in proportion to ‘second’ votes in each district only? Or should the total (national) ‘second’ votes be the criterion and list-seats districts be adjusted by a formula to ensure that total seats for each party is in proportion to its total national ‘second’ votes? Should only ‘second’ votes be used in allocating list-seats or should the sum of ‘second’ and constituency (first) votes be the criterion? Germany uses a version of one of these options; the details are irrelevant to my point. My point is to show that there is a lot of thinking to do in deciding the nitty-gritty details of the type of FTTP+PR design that is best for Lanka.
The Dutch system is strictly proportional. That is, seats are allocated in proportion to the number of votes won by each list nationally. No districts, only one vote each nationally, clean simple but never a stable government or lasting working majority! Austria has a complicated PR system with votes that did not win a seat at the lower (‘district’) level being aggregated upwards to the national level where they may eke out a seat by aggregation (the “no votes wasted” theory). An Austrian JVP may get 5% in every district but not win a single PR district seat, but its national total (say 5 lahks if the electorate was Sri Lanka’s size) would, in aggregate, earn it a few parliamentary seats by a formula you can think up.
For the time being however I am against a fair FTTP+PR system. It’s not that I am malevolent by nature. It’s that I don’t want anything that may make it easier for MR-GR to get a 2/3-rd majority. That’s by far is the worse evil; this possibility must be blocked by the current parliament which has the power to block constitutional changes.