Colombo Telegraph

Proposal For A Simple Electoral Reform

By 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.

I 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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