By Bernard Fernando –
The following is an excerpt from a letter to the Editor that appeared in the national Press after the 2020-Election results were published.
“Explain confusing results (sic)
What is incomprehensible for me is JJB, which polled 445,958 votes ended up with three seats and ITAK polling lower, with 327,168 votes got 10 seats in Parliament! Am I daft? Or is there a misprint of numbers? Or is there a gross misrepresentation of people? Same goes for AITC, EPDP, TMVP, OPPP, etc. All were averaging around 67,000 votes but ended up getting one or two seats. For example, EPDP polling 61,000 ended up getting the same number of seats as the JJB, which polled 445,958! I’ll be grateful if someone can enlighten me and the other readers, of this phenomenon of proportional representation.”
It spurred me to retrieve from my archives, a clarion call of mine that appeared in the Press under the title ‘Change PR arithmetic for seat allocation’, in the aftermath of the 2015 General Election. Interestingly, my aforesaid article too commenced with a similar paragraph as follows.
“Many good governance supporters ask the question why the JVP having polled a national vote of 543,944 votes won only 4 seats while the TNA with a lesser total vote of 515,963 confined to the North and Eastern Provinces garnered 14 seats out of 196 contested seats.”
Is it a ‘Misprint’ or a ‘Misrepresentation’?
I believe that ‘Citizen S’and the readers will garner a better understanding of the issue based on the following facts from my said article, the contents of which appear to have felt on deaf ears of the concerned authorities for the last 5 years.
The results of the recent Parliamentary Election too have revealed the same short comings in the basis adopted when applying the Proportionate Representation (PR) arithmetic to allocate seats. However, at the outset it must be categorically stated that it is not a drawback of the most democratic PR System which ensures a ‘shared- Democracy’.
It is clear that this phenomenon that became incomprehensible to ‘Citizen S’ has arisen due to, 1) the allocation of seats to 22 unequally populated District units, coupled with the grant of 01 bonus seat to each of 22 District winners, 2) deduction of total No. of votes of parties who have obtained less than minimum of 5% of the total valid votes in 22 districts to arrive at the ‘Relevant vote’ figure and 3) the arithmetical ‘Rounding- off’ ‘ of votes happening in as many as 22 places, leading to a substantial number of votes from 22 Districts belonging specially to smaller but recognised parties like the JJB(JVP) going in to the ‘Waste paper Basket’, in an arithmetical exercise to allocate 196 seats for 01 National Parliament..
Due to the combined effect of the aforesaid reasons, (in addition to ‘Citizen S’ concerns), the JJB which obtained as many as 30,000 to 37,000 votes in Districts like Galle and Matara was deprived of a single seat in those Districts ostensibly due to higher voter density while ITAK won 10 seats including 03 bonus seats from 4 Districts due to lower density of voters in the Northern and Eastern Districts.
To view in a different way, it required a minimum of 61,833 JJB voters in Gampaha District to occupy one seat in Parliament whereas SJB voters in Vanni District did it with a minimum of only 37,883 votes. Another striking feature is, UNP obtained only 01 seat (Thanks to the National list which was based on pure Proportionate arithmetic) while it got zero value for its 249,435 votes (5th highest) reckoned for the 196 District seats.
Thus, in the present context, the concept of ‘Bonus seats’ based on unequally populated 22 Districts which was intended to avoid an unstable Govt. can now be considered as irrelevant. Similarly, the safety valve of ‘Minimum 5% limit’ to discourage advent of many smaller contestants has become a cropper as can be seen from the unusual length of the Ballot paper.
The core objective of this expensive and laborious exercise is to elect 225 members for one National Parliament in the country and not for 22 District level entities. Therefore, the simple and most rational solution to rectify the aforesaid gross anomalies is, to apply pure and simple proportionate arithmetic to a ‘Single National Electorate’ to allocate the 196 seats and 29 ‘National list’ seats among seat winning Party symbols as illustrated in the Table below.
Thereby, all votes garnered by the main seat-winning parties will get the compulsory equal face value of say 01 to each vote whether it is cast in the North, South, East or West.
It is seen from the Table that the JJB’s seat entitlement out of 225 is increased from the present 03 to 09, while that of ITAK is reduced from 10 to 07 seats. Similarly, the SLPP’s entitlement is reduced from the present 145 to 138 while that of SJB is increased from 54 to 55. The UNP gets value to its votes with an increase from 01 to 05 seats. AITC has the potential to retain its 2 seats, provided all other parties unanimously agree to confer the unallocated 01 National list seat. The OPOPP loses its National list seat but gains 01 out of 196 seats. All these changes reflect the fairest and accurate result after applying pure and simple proportional arithmetic to achieve the core objective.
Moreover, in our view, the winning Parties should be allowed to fill their proportionately distributed District seats from a ‘District Merit list’ of candidates introduced with the original PR system of 1978 or from a Central Pool as previously done by the JVP, after abolishing the abhorrent Preference Voting (PV) system which courted environment pollution, inter and intra rivalry/ thuggery among parties and extravagant expenditure in a battle to muster more preference votes.
Readers will recall that the writer has brought up the concept of ‘Single Electorate’, over the years through presentations and several Articles to the Press and letters to all concerned authorities many a time, to of no avail. On that premise, the writer further exhorts, (as brought up in repeated articles to the press) that PR Arithmetic should be applied to the ‘constitutionally specified’ number of Cabinet Ministers too, so that smaller parties like the JJB and TNA are also represented in the highest decision making body of the Country.
Let us face the hard facts and if we want to consider ourselves as ‘Sri Lankans’ irrespective of Race, Caste or Creed, we should strive for ‘Equal Status’ and not for ‘Preferred Status’ which decries ‘Modern Democratic’ principles.
Towards this end, we make an earnest appeal to our Academia and relevant Civil society Organisations like ‘Paffrel’, Caffe and CMEV actively supported by the media to force the appointment of a ‘Civilian Task force for Electoral Reforms’ under the National Elections Commission, comprising eminent retired judges and representatives of the aforesaid Civil Society Organisations bereft of politicians. They are only ‘Agents’ of the People who will have to operate within a framework of governance designed by the People as the ‘Principals’ in keeping with the ‘Law of Agency’.
We are confident that H.E The President and the New Govt. will facilitate this ‘Out -of-the Box’ shift under the much awaited ‘Electoral Reforms’, so that we could boast of a genuine ‘Permanent Peoples’ Govt.’ that can present itself as an inclusive, harmonious global model of modern Democracy.