6 August, 2020

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Proposal For A Simple Electoral Reform

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

It is announced that the government might make proposals for electoral reforms in the much talked about 19th Amendment, however the next election will be held under the old system. This is regrettable news. The reason could be that the proposal/s suggested are complicated, and the implementation of which would take much time and preparation.

This short and quick article argues that if we think about the matter ‘out of the box,’ there can be an easy and reasonable solution. What I mean by the ‘boxed thinking’ is the effort to try and mix the two systems (the FPP and the PR) in certain proportions, some MPs under the First Past the Post system and some MPs under the PR. This to me is an unnecessary effort to combine the two, and instead an FPP or constituency system could be accommodated quite easily within the PR system to achieve same or better objectives.

The objectives are (1) to do away with the preferential voting and competition (2) to create constituencies where the respective MPs are closer to the voters (3) to ensure the viable minor parties receive adequate representation and (4) to guarantee the overall composition of the parliament reflect the proportional voting of the voters.

The proposed system can be described as accommodating the FPP system within the existing PR system. There can be a deviation, but it is minimal as I would explain.

First, to do away with the preferential voting, the proposal is to hold elections for the 160 constituencies and not for the whole district as it is now. The FPP principles should apply. Therefore, the voter like in the old system vote only for one candidate from a political party or as an independent candidate. Therefore, straight away 160 MPs are selected by the voters in different constituencies and those elections are final. The ballot paper is a simple one like the old days where only the names, party and the symbol appear with one cross to be marked by a voter in that constituency or the electoral division. The vote for the candidate is also a vote for the party except in the case of independent candidates. The candidates don’t need to spend enormous amounts of money or employ thugs for preferential voting competition. The MPs would become closer to the voters/people and if the civil society is better organized the system can bring better results in terms of enhanced accountability.

Tamil Vote Photo CREDIT- REUTERS:DINUKA LIYANAWATTEI do admit and understand that there are considerable disparities and distortions between the existing 160 electoral divisions, but for the next elections it might be too late to resolve them through a delimitation commission. However, as some have argued or boasted, if our technological competence is sufficient, even redrawing of constituencies could be undertaken before the next election. Otherwise it could be postponed for future elections.

Second, to accommodate and given due representation to minor and runner-up parties, I would propose to employ the same PR principles both at the district and the national level. This is the second calculation or formula. On the basis of the voting at the constituencies, votes for political parties can be counted. Using the same PR principles as at present eligible candidates for political parties are counted at the district level. There should be party nominations lists for district PR. Let me give an example here.

Under the present PR system, the election department determines how many MPs or seats are assigned to each electoral District. This system should continue. The total number amounts to 196. For example, at the 2010 parliamentary elections, there were 10 seats allocated to the Galle electoral district.

At the same time as we all know, there were traditional 10 constituencies or electoral divisions in the Galle district as Balapitiya, Ambalangoda, Karandeniya, Bentota-elipitiya, Hiniduma, Baddegama, Ratgama, Galle, Akmeemana and Habaraduwa. .

If we take the 2010 election results, all the above constituencies were won by the UPFA. Under my proposed system, all those who contest those constituencies from the UPFA get elected as MPs. However, under the PR calculations, on the basis of party voting in the district, the party allocations were UPFA 7, UNP 2 and DNA 1.

Therefore under the PR application, the UPFA has already got their due and 3 in addition. These 3 are counted and named as ‘overhang’ seats. Therefore, under the district PR principle only the UNP and the DNA get their due and that is 2 and 1 MPs respectively.

Who actually gets these seats and how? Apart from political parties fielding candidates for particular constituencies, they also should nominate a list of candidates before the election department for the consideration under the district PR system. It is out of that list that 2 UNP candidates and 1 DNA candidate would get elected to parliament. This district list system is proposed new different to the present.

This method can be called accommodating the FPP within the PR system. If one goes through the election records or information, all districts are not like Galle. There are discrepancies between the numbers of the FPP seats and the PR seats. For example, in the Colombo district there were 19 PR seats in 2010, but only 15 FPP seats. On the other hand, there were only 9 PR seats but 11 FPP seats in Jaffna. These discrepancies signify mainly the distortions in the present 160 FPP seats, the resolution of which requires delimitation. However, the ‘overhang seats’ does not mean these discrepancies. Then what?

The ‘overhang seats’ could be defined as the number of seats that a party receives under the FPP system over and above their eligible PR allocation in a particular district. According to our example, the UPFA had 3 overhang seats in the Galle district.

After 160 FPP seats are accommodated within the 196 district PR system, the resultant ‘overhang seats’ are not a big number. On the basis of 2010 results, my quick and initial calculations showed the number to be 24. The actual may be slightly different with my calculation errors! What can we do for these overhangs in the crucial question? My proposal is to deduct that number from the national list PR allocations. Under the present proposal, national PR and national list system prevails as it is. We also need to keep in mind that this is only a number or a calculation and we have already allocated the FPP and the district PR MPs and their elections or positions stand.

The overhang seats are usually from the winning party. This was the case for UPFA, when 2010 taken as an example. This may differ in the future. However, there can be overhang seats for other parties in regional contexts. This was also the case when calculated for Jaffna district, in the case of the ITAK.

The third step is to reconcile the ‘overhang seats’ within the national list allocations. That is by deducting the overhang from the entitled national list number. For example, the national list allocations in 2010, according to national PR, were UPFA 17, UNP 9, DNA 2 and ITAK 1. However, the number of overhang seats for the leading or winning party can be more than their national list allocation. Therefore, even after the reconciliation still there can be a number of overhang seats.

That means because of the newly introduced FPP constituencies or MPs even after accommodating them within the district PR and national PR system, still there can be an additional seats for the leading or the winning party. However, there will be no change to the number of representation or seats that minor parties or the major losing (second or runner-up) party could achieve through the present PR system.

The final residue number of overhang seats would be in the range of 10 to 15. This discrepancy also could be eliminated or reduced by proper delimitation in the future. There is no need therefore for any MP to sit in the gallery due to lack of a proper seat in the chamber!

This proposal is simple because this doesn’t require major changes to the present system. No major preparations are necessary. This could be a win-win situation for major political parties as well as minor parties. The final composition of the parliament would not be so different to what is achieved under the present PR system. If the present defects of the system are understood mainly as the outrageous preferential completion and lack of MPs to be responsible for constituencies, this would be the best system while preserving the basic tenets of proportional representation and due recognition for minor parties. This could also entail more stability than the present system. However, this proposal is feasible if only political parties agree to go little beyond the 225 member parliament, and be flexible, and think beyond that box of 225.

*The author regrets if some of the propositions are not elaborated enough as the author is under pressure of time, due to radiation treatment for prostate cancer  

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Latest comments

  • 10
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    Dr Laksiri Fernando

    We wish you speedy recovery, get well soon

    • 4
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      Dr. Laksiri Fernando

      RE: Proposal For A Simple Electoral Reform

      *The author regrets if some of the propositions are not elaborated enough as the author is under pressure of time, due to radiation treatment for prostate cancer “

      We wish you a speedy recovery from prostrate cancer, many men face due to aging.

      Thank you very much for your your continued contributions for civilized democratic society in Sri lanka.

      “First, to do away with the preferential voting, the proposal is to hold elections for the 160 constituencies and not for the whole district as it is now. The FPP principles should apply. Therefore, the voter like in the old system vote only for one candidate from a political party or as an independent candidate.”

      Yes. the politicians are more accountable at the Electorate level, than the more diffuse district level.

    • 5
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      I am praying that you Dr. Fanando get well soon
      and receive all the comfort and encouragement
      that you need in the meantime.
      Wishing for your speedy recovery!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 5
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    Dr Laksiri wish you well and hope you continue to contribute towards enlightening civic society.

  • 9
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    Dear Prof.Laksiri,

    Your effort to pen this essay in the face of the impending ordeal is admirable. Wish you the very best. My prayers are with you.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 2
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      Unlike DJ, Dr. Fernando has seen it right most of the time.
      We all pray for his sooner recovery!!!!!

    • 2
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      Yes indeed, that alone proves his strength. All the very best for you Dr. Fernando

  • 3
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    A big thank you. We appreciate your dedication to get the electoral reforms through. Very few would have done this job in your condition. Wish you a speedy recovery. All the best

  • 3
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    Dear Prof Laksri,
    Wish you all the very best for you to get well soon.

  • 5
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    Prof:Lasiri.

    Country before self! Great.I admire you.I will now study your proposals.

  • 5
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    How about a system of allocating seats on the following basis in a FPP systems?

    1. 160 seats on the basis of the winner of the majority votes in the 160 electorates.
    2. 50 seats to those parties that came second and third on the national count, proportionate to the votes they garnered.
    3. 15 seats to individuals nominated by recognised professional bodies representing medicine, law, engineering, agriculture, university teachers, accounting, IT, secondary education, etc.

    Would this not be simpler, represent the voter preferences better, be more balanced and maje it possible for professionals to be represented in parliaments?

    This system would also permit the next general elections to be held sooner without unnecessary complications?
    Dr.RN

    • 3
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      Point 2: should read ‘those parties that came first, second and third on the national count—.

      Dr,RN

  • 1
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    Dr.Laksiri Fernando: Your unbiased articles with in depth analysis, common sense and vision is always appreciated. May god bless you with strength and courage in order to over the present difficulties soon. My Salute to a true patriot’s dedication, even at a time like this !

  • 1
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    what a great man you are, even at pain of mind and body you thought of the country more than your illness. We would join the whole country in wishing you speedy recovery.please go ahead with your proposal and help rectify this malign p r system.

  • 1
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    Dr Laksiri Fernando,

    I wish you a speedy recovery.

    You have given one of the best proposals for electoral reforms.

    However I very much like to make a few suggestions to make your proposals more realistic and simple.

    Basically I hate party leader’s playing any role in the selection of members of parliament without facing the electorates.

    First let us fix the total number of members of parliament each district is entitled.

    It has to be more than the number of constituencies.

    The total number should accommodate both electoral members and proportional members.

    Once the number of members elected under the first past post system is determined, the additional members from the political party entitled for additional seats under proportional system could be selected from the defeated candidates of the particular political party or independent group (not by the party secretary) who had obtained highest percentage of valid votes from the constituencies within the district.

    By this method all members are elected under either FPP or under proportional system, secondly the advantages of first past post system and the proportional system are maintained.

    Why I spoke about the percentage of votes under the proportional system in identifying the winner from proportional system from the districts is because even within a district the electorates are not similar- some of them have a higher number of votes while some others have lesser number of votes.

    The percentage system is recommended to avoid any bias the candidates from the higher number of votes.

    National list of members could be done away while expecting political parties to nominate people with integrity and learning to the electorates to face elections and thereby enhance the quality of members of parliament.

    Professor, I really expect your response and I hope that you will quickly recover and enrich the forum with your active participation and valuable inputs.

    • 1
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      Sri,

      I am responding to you as you have particularly asked me to do so. I am also keeping myself well at least at the moment. I am touched by greetings from all friends. Thank you so much to all.

      I do agree with you that party leaders should not play a special role in selecting MPs. But if political parties are democratic, then the parties playing a supplementary role cannot be rejected. Democratization of political parties should come next in the people’s agenda. Therefore, I am not completely inimical to political party lists. That is also a good opportunity for party democratization.

      You may be logical in saying that percentage of votes received should be the criteria if we select PR members, after FPP, from the ‘defeated’ (!) candidates. But I am not in favour of this proposition. I have seen this proposition from many others. If the defeated candidates also get into parliament, what is the point in having elections? I don’t think that would give any legitimacy for that candidate from the voters’ point of view. Speaking from my childhood experience at Moratuwa, if HEP De Mel also went to parliament after Meryl Fernando defeated him in 1956, I would have considered it as a joke. Right or wrong, competition is a fundamental facet of parliamentary or representative democracy.

      On the other hand, even in the case of FPP election, there are or can be distortions due to disparities between constituencies in the same district. For example, candidate A from the party G might get defeated in the constituency F who obtains 40,000 of votes, while the candidate B from the same party in constituency H gets elected obtaining just 20,000 votes. Are we going to apply the same percentage principle? I think the solution for the discrepancies between constituencies is to re-demarcate them.

      I have only commented on matters I have a different point of view. On others I may agree. Thank you.

  • 0
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    Please implement the mixed system with a ceiling (FPP with PR for gap filling) per district or province basis. No harm for any party. 125 seats for the first-pass-the-post, 75 seats for the proportional representation and 25 for the national list. A ceiling (upper limit) should be set per district or province before the PR allocation of 75 seats. Upper limit is the number of seats according the total votes for each party in the district or the province. e. g. who gets 60% votes in the Galle district is entitled for 6 seats out of total 10. If they have already taken 5 seats from the FPP allocation, they will get only the gap of 1 more seats. This will secure a small party who gets 5-10% to have 1 seat. Members elected from the PR should be the best defeated candidates from FPP, who have taken at least 30-35% votes in the district or province.

  • 1
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    Dear Prof Laksri,

    Wish you a speedy recovery. Your contributions are of immense value.

    Sengodan. M

  • 0
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    Is the lady giving the one finger to My three Palalamaya pr Is it for the unelected PM’s Yahapalanaya?.

    Yahapalana Chief Spokesperson says his baby son didn’t abduct the under age young teenager?.

    She came voluntarily to seek protection under the wings of Senarathna Jr?.

    Wonder whether the Junior works for the CPA?..

    Got a bit side tracked,, FPP is the way to go…Totally agree with Lucky .

    But then how can the rogue PM find spots for his his favourites, the sons of Mother Lanka who serve Ranil like drover’s dogs.

    Starting with Junior’s dad, there are quite a few, namely the FM and the new recruits Champaka & Sobitha.

    You reckon they can do FPP in our Sinhala Biddhist electorates ?..

  • 3
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    Dear Dr. Laksiri Fernando:

    Normally people will keep a highly personal and disturbing information such as this confidential. But as you have decided to share it with us which is commendable my heart goes out to you and your family at this difficult time. Hope everything goes OK and Wish you a speedy recovery.

  • 1
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    Dr Laksiri Fernando,

    I am touched by your response.

    I expected you to reply leisurely once you are fully cured, but you are such a public spirited man, you responded almost immediately in spite of your illness.

    if only we had a few more dedicated individuals like you in public life, our country would have been much more fortunate.

    But alas it is not to be

    However,I do not agree with your criticism about some defeated candidates also getting elected.

    Let me give an example.

    In a particular constituency, let us assume that only two candidates contested.

    The candidate A got 51% of the votes and the candidate B got 49 % of the votes.

    If under a system if both A and B are elected, Is it not more democratic?

    The entire people in that particular constituency have their own representative in Parliament.

    Please I do not want to enter into a debate with you at this stage, however i expect others to respond

  • 0
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    Dear Laksiri

    Your balanced professional contributions are highly valued by most of us. Since your malignancy is less likely to be harmful than others, we expect you to be back with us again, while relaxing during and after the prescribed treatment.

    jayawick

  • 1
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    As a fellow traveller negotiating prostate cancer in the past few months, let me wish that your treatment is fast and effective, and that you will soon enjoy total recovery.

    Thank you for your essay. My only worry was that the “over hang” MPs elected under PR may not have a constituency to serve. Is not a multi-member constituency preferable since such electorates will be those with larger populations?

    • 3
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      Wickramasiri

      Get well soon.

      • 1
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        Thank you Native Vedda

        • 0
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          all the best for you. As you say treatment is fast and effective !

  • 2
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    Dear Prof:

    I just checked on your behalf regarding this type of malignancy.With proper treatment[I believe you are in AUSTRALIA] AND ABSOLUTE REST you could look forward to many more years![ I hope that I dont sound to be a Pandithaya!]

    Anyway,about the Electoral reforms.Recently,the media reported that at a meeting to discuss this issue,the Commissioner Elections had said that the best way to accomodate both the FPP and the PR is to increase the no:of MPP!

    I HOPE HE WILL JOIN THIS DEBATE.

    • 1
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      Dear Plato and Wickremasiri,

      Thanks for your concern. You are absolutely right. I am very confident that I could come through. This should be an encouragement for Wickremasiri as well. Best wishes for him to get well. I have always appreciated Wickremasiri’s comments, particularly on environmental, scientific and economic issues. I am going for the fourth day of radiation in few hours’ time, driving myself to the hospital. This will go for two months. Important thing for anyone is to have courage and consider all aspects rationally without neglecting all necessary treatment. I am sure there is no much difference whether we are in Australia or Sri Lanka. My experience is that our doctors are equally good although some facilities are lacking behind. ‘Native’s well wishes for Wickremasiri also should be an encouragement.

      Fighting cancer in one’s body is like fighting ‘cancer in the body politic.’ I especially recollect report of the Donoughmore Commission in this respect. If we identify the cancerous cells and ‘destroy’ them in time we can cure the ailment. Only difference might be ‘destroy’ in politics does not mean physical elimination, but ideological, institutional and political defeat.

      • 1
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        Your articles alaways encouarged us. Your energies always opened our eyes. We fruther pray for your health Dr. Fernando. All the very best.

  • 1
    0

    Wickramasri and Dr. Fernando,

    I just read this article. I wish you speedy recovery as well. I might have clashed with your views on occasion, but on the whole you both have been largely fair and just in your views.

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