Colombo Telegraph

The Need For Electoral Reform

By Rajiva Wijesinha

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha MP

I am not sure why such a meal is being made about Electoral Reform. The pledge in the Presidential Manifesto was quite clear, viz

Another serious problem that our Sri Lanka Freedom Party led government failed to address during the last twenty years is the change of the electoral system. The existing electoral system is a mainspring of corruption and violence. Candidates have to spend a colossal sum of money due to the preferential system. I will change this completely. I guarantee the abolition of the preferential system and will ensure that every electorate will have a Member of Parliament of its own. The new electoral system will be a combination of the first-past-the post system and the proportional representation of defeated candidates. Since the total composition of Parliament would not change by this proposal, I would be able to get the agreement of all political parties represented in Parliament for the change. Further, wastage and clashes could be minimised since electoral campaigns would be limited to single electorates.

I find it totally unacceptable therefore, particularly given the reasons italicised above, that the draft of proposed constitutional changes has no reference to electoral reforms. It is reported that there are worries amongst the smaller parties that they will be left out if constituencies are introduced, and this will certainly happen if votes have just the one vote. Most people will vote for the candidate likely to win of the main candidates, and even if they have a high regard for a small party, they will not waste their vote.

That is why the German system allows two votes, and that is the only system that will ensure that ‘the total composition of Parliament would not change by this proposal’. I therefore this morning drafted the necessary Constitutional Amendment, and will propose it to Parliament as soon as possible. I understand of course that my colleagues may wish to amend this, but I hope it will be recognized all round that this is the basic principle that we should follow.

The Elections Commissioner has noted that Delimitation will not be a long process, and I have no doubt that, with his expert support, a Delimitation Commission will be able to do its job within three months. But just in case there is insistence on holding the election before it does its job, I have suggested some transitional provisions too.

The following amendment then is put forward for further discussion, and also to familiarize those interested with a system that will fulfil the commitment in both the short and the long manifestos on which we won the election.

Delete Sections 95 to 99 of the Constitution and replace with

95 (i) Within one week of Sections 95 following being amended, the President shall establish a Delimitation Commission ….(as in current 95). The Commission shall be required to present its Report within three months of its being appointed.

(Current 95 (2) to remain)

96 (1) The Delimitation Commission shall divide Sri Lanka into 100 constituencies so that the population of Sri Lanka shall be divided equitably between those 100 constituencies, with the variation between the constituency having the largest number of voters and that having the smallest number not exceeding 10%.

(Clauses (5) and (6) of the current Constitution shall remain as (2) and (3)

97. The President shall by Proclamation publish the names and boundaries of the constituencies, which shall be the basis of elections to Parliament at the next ensuing General Election.

98. (1) At General Elections, each voter shall be entitled to cast two separate votes. One shall be for an individual, chosen from amongst those nominated for the constituency in which such voter is entitled to vote. The second shall be for a political party, from a list of those registered political parties that are contesting that election. Political parties will be deemed to be contesting the election if they have nominated candidates for at least 5 constituencies.

In addition to candidates nominated for constituencies, each Party contesting the election shall be entitled to nominate on a National List 5 candidates who are distinguished for service in any two of the following areas – Administration, Business Enterprises, Cultural Activities, Education, Social Service. Each Party, in presenting its National List to the Elections Commissioner shall indicate the qualifications of each candidate on that list.

(2) Each constituency will return as the first representative of that constituency the individual who received the most votes cast within that constituency.

(3) One hundred more members will be returned to Parliament on the basis of the second party vote, such that the final composition of Parliament shall reflect proportionately the votes cast for each such Party.

(4) After the number of seats each Party is entitled to on the Party Vote is communicated to each Party, it shall nominate upto half the number of seats it is entitled to from the National List, to the maximum of 5. The remaining vacancies shall be filled by those candidates contesting individual constituencies on behalf of the Party who received the highest percentage of votes in the individual vote.

99. (1) Current 99 (13) (a) save that the section from ‘Or independent group’ to ‘Parliament’ should be deleted.

(b) Where the seat of a Member of Parliament elected on the individual vote to a constituency becomes vacant, a bye-election shall be held for that constituency, with each voter being entitled to one individual vote.

© Where the seat of a Member of Parliament elected by means of the Party Vote becomes vacant, the political party to which such member belonged shall be entitled to fill that seat, either through nomination of a candidate on its National List, or through the next candidate of those who contested individual constituencies on behalf of the Party who received the highest percentage of votes in the individual vote.

Renumber Clause 104 as 104 (1) and add

104 (2) If the Proclamation under 97 shall not have been made at the time of the next General Election, the Elections Commissioner shall hold such election on the system described above, subject to the proviso that, instead of the 100 constituencies envisaged, he shall determine between 100 and 120 constituencies on the basis of the electoral registers currently in use in the several constituencies into which each Electoral District has now been divided.

He shall combine constituencies in consultation with the Delimitation Commission appointed by the President, such that constituencies with fewer than 80,000 registered voters shall be combined with similar neighbouring constituencies.

Any constituency with more than 200,000 registered voters shall return the two members who received the highest number of individual votes at the election held under these transitional provisions.

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