23 July, 2024


The Shared Practices Of Democracies

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Hon. Karu Jayasuriya our Chief Guest, Distinguished Guests: A warm welcome to you all on behalf of the Election Commission. We are here to celebrate 85 years of our Donoughmore Heritage. It is indeed a great achievement. It is natural to celebrate such sturdy accomplishments; to be proud of them.

I have just returned after attending two international meetings. Our participation endorses and affirms our continued commitment to our democratic traditions. First, the important meeting of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, or IFES, to observe the US Elections. And second, the Commonwealth Electoral Network’s Steering Committee or CEN meeting where Sri Lanka represents the Asian Region. I am happy to report that we were selected to host the next of our series of CEN Biennial Meetings. It will be held around May 2018; here in Colombo. It was made apparent to us at the meeting that this choice recognizes the respect we have justly earned as a democracy. Sri Lanka will chair CEN from that meeting until the next meeting in 2020. The Commonwealth wanted a credible voice for CEN; a respected spokesperson’s voice. Mr. Mahinda Deshapriya’s name figured prominently in this choice. It did so because the Commonwealth Observation Team saw first-hand the drama that unfolded before them on that eventful night of 8 January 2015.

Thomas Cranmer: A Genius with the English Language

Thomas Cranmer: A Genius with the English Language

Enough, now, on our achievements! However good we might be, we can always be better. Recognizing this, CEN and IFES together seek to share our pool of best practices. Every democracy from around the globe – big or small, strong or weak – has contributed to these best practices, practices that we all innovate and share. This sharing helps us expand on and reinforce our Donoughmore Heritage. I therefore wish to share here some of the practices that others employ which we can benefit from; practices I learnt of, practices I learnt from, on this trip. I have chosen to elaborate on four of these that struck me as very relevant and important to us here in Sri Lanka.

First, voter registration. We have been doing this for years in ways similar to those of many other countries. We therefore think we have perfected this. Annually our Grama Niladris – our Kirama Sevahars – go house to house in the month of June and register voters. Two deficiencies in our methods were, rather forcefully, brought to my attention: those who turn 18 a little after June 1 will not be able to exercise their franchise until they are really 19. Mind you, the constitution gives each citizen the right to vote upon reaching the age of 18.

Our Commission has been aware that we fail our youthful voters badly in this. It has been deliberating on what we can do. The Commonwealth, on the other hand, advocates registration, particularly as an election is just ahead of us; not periodically at fixed times. They also suggest that our use of public servants as temporary employees seconded to the Commission for this exercise, makes our voter rolls questionable. They say the loyalty of public servants may lean towards the party in power. That opens to question the credibility of our voter rolls. They suggest using people from the private sector as well. We must certainly think about this.

Second: The US Elections saw 30% of the electorate voting well before polling day; which technically is only the last polling day. To preserve the secrecy of the ballot, two envelopes are used. An outer envelope verifies the validity of the voter’s registration. Inside that envelope is a secrecy envelop containing the actual, marked ballot. It has no marking. It is pooled with all others and opened at the time of counting. Is this not the means to three useful things? – a) avoiding long lines at the polls that discourage voter participation, b) increasing through enhanced convenience, the participation of emergency workers and people who must travel long distances on polling day and therefore cannot vote; and c) restoring the right to vote of our Diaspora. After all, the Diaspora are guaranteed the right to vote as citizens in our constitution. But we deny them that right. They bring in valuable foreign exchange. We cannot – we must not – fail them.

Third: Quotas for women are now increasingly used globally to enhance the participation of women in governance. In Sri Lanka, with over 50% women both in the population and enrolled in our universities, we have had only 13 MPs in Parliament since the year 2004; even fewer before. The worldwide average is 21.9%. There is reluctance to engage in serious discussion on this. It is now common wisdom that when quotas are used, women get in. Given such opportunity, women then prove their mettle.

Rwanda with under 12 million people is a trail-blazer. It is a beacon to us all. It is in an anomalous situation with 800,000 people killed in the genocide of 1994. That man-made disaster, that enormity, has left behind a population with 70% women. Although a quota of 30% women was imposed, it resulted in a parliament of 64% women, the highest anywhere. We may be sure that, now that these women have been elected, they are already growing into their shoes. This is just like what African Americans did in the United States. Surely, we in Sri Lanka can give justice to our own women without having to engage in a massacre of men!

In neighboring Bangladesh, a Muslim country where 87% of women are said to face domestic violence, it is reported that as of the year 2013, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition and the Foreign Minister were all women. India and Bangladesh have used quotas to realize massive gains in getting women into local government – over one million in India alone. With our superior social indices, why is Sri Lanka so far behind?

We here in Sri Lanka have since Jan. 2016 imposed a quota of 25% for women in Local Government. We must congratulate our government for this. Going by the experience elsewhere, this is the right way; the only way. Quotas! The remaining question is this: why not quotas for parliament too?

That brings me to the fourth shared good practice that I wish to tell you about. Everyone must be able to plan and strategize for elections. It needs time. Therefore, a wise and good practice, shared and encouraged by the Commonwealth, is to never make changes to the system too close to an election. A period of two years was suggested as a target – of course when an election has to be suddenly declared, it may not be possible. But we must always work with this target. When we can avoid it, we should never tinker with the system close to an election. We see the consequences in the recent redrawing of district boundaries here. Periodic redistricting is necessary. But not when elections are overdue as here. To embark on delimitation when we have not had elections in some places for four years past the due date, is simply bad practice. It allows the indefinite postponement of elections. It questions our credentials as a democracy. The same bad practice is seen in another matter. I refer here to the imposition of 25% quotas for women in local government. It is a good thing.

Nevertheless, not when elections have not been held for years. Further, the ongoing delimitation is a further barrier to holding timely elections; indeed, delimitation must finish for us to know how many wards there are and how many seats. Without knowing the seats, we cannot implement the law to have 25% women. It becomes another reason to deny people their democratic right to elect their local bodies. It becomes a means of avoiding the people’s verdict on how our representatives are faring in governing us. It is to undermine our Donoughmore Heritage which we celebrate today. If I may paraphrase Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s wise words about marriage almost 500 years ago, electoral change is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.

These then are the four best practices that are on offer by our democratic fraternity for us all to share. It is absolutely necessary to learn from the best practices of our friends and neighbours, and learn from each other. If we had done so, we would not have the current mess of being unable to hold elections because we embarked on delimitation and introduced new laws about women’s quotas in the middle of a time when elections are years overdue.

There is no question whether Sri Lanka is a strong democracy capable of credible, periodic, decisive elections. January 8th 2015 is proof that we are. The international community has acknowledged this our strength in inviting us to host the next CEN Biennial Meeting. To rest on our laurels, however, is vanity. Let us through the sharing of the world’s best practices continue to strengthen our Donoughmore Legacy. Today, let us rededicate ourselves to that legacy which we now celebrate.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you.

*S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole, Member, Election Commission – Speech delivered at the BMICH on 30 Nov. 2016 at the Election Commission’s Celebrations on the Eighty-fifth Anniversary of the Donoughmore Constitution which brought Universal Adult Suffrage to Sri Lanka in 1931.  

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  • 2

    Some think I am anti US. Yes I am anti US policies.
    Very very pro average US people.

    Trump Reaches Deal To Keep 1,000 Carrier Jobs In The U.S.

    Obamas Policies Job Losses

    Advocate globalism, but clearly state its against
    Founding father policies.

    One of the first acts of Congress, George Washington signed was a tariff among whose stated purpose was “the encouragement and protection of manufactures.”

    “I use no porter or cheese in my family, but such as is made in America,” George Washington wrote, boasting that these domestic products are “of an excellent quality.”

    Abraham Lincoln said
    “Give us a protective tariff and we will have the greatest nation on earth.” Lincoln warned that “the abandonment of the protective policy by the American Government… must produce want and ruin among our people.”

    Lincoln did not see a tariff as a tax on low-income Americans because it would only burden the consumer according to the amount the consumer consumed By the tariff system, the whole revenue is paid by the consumers of foreign goods… the burthen of revenue falls almost entirely on the wealthy and luxurious few, while the substantial and laboring many who live at home, and upon home products, go entirely free.

    Lincoln argued that a tariff system was less intrusive than domestic taxation: The tariff is the cheaper system, because the duties, being collected in large parcels at a few commercial points, will require comparatively few officers in their collection; while by the direct tax system, the land must be literally covered with assessors and collectors, going forth like swarms of Egyptian locusts, devouring every blade of grass and other green thing.


    • 1

      Is this about Prof. Hoole’s Speech/Article?

      Sometimes happens! You prepare off line, and then paste.

  • 0

    I was in the appreciatve audience last evening, and this was a wonderful speech, delivered with verve and the occasional flash of humour. This reads well, too, but I wondered yesterday, was it advisable for Prof. Hoole to use a dangerous Sinhala word “Diaspora”?

    I’m in a bus at the moment, passing Diyatalawa. Shall say more when seated at a computer. By which time I hope that Dr Rajan Hoole’s speech has also appeared here. Wonderful content there, but delivered with less panache. Mahinda Deshapriya was his usual relaxed self, but he, too, sounded very sincere.

  • 0

    It’s so disappointing that nobody has yet commented on the important issues raised.

    In referring to “Diaspora” as a pejorative Sinhala word, I was trying to say, as early as possible, that our political discourse has become simplistic. For the Tami, may I say that it is like the matador’s red flag to a bull? The bull is colour blind, of course: it’s the goading with a sword that gets the poor bull mad. I don’t mourn when the odd matador is gored to death.

    We, Sinhalese have got divided so many ways – unnecessarily, one feels. I was seated with a Sinhalese class-mate who is a dual citizen: Sri Lanka and the U.K. He’s also “Diaspora”, but we are conscious only of Tamils. How’s the old school going he asked? “Pretty well all things considered”, I said. “Do they use cutlery?” I said I hadn’t bothered looking in to that, since there were more basic things that concerned me.

    Mahinda Deshapriya referred to how when he entered Peradeniya Uni in 1974, they were the first children of the Swabasha Revolution. And that made a difference; up to then M.Ps came from the class that used handi gerappu (fork and spoon) when eating. Yesterday, I called my friend to get permission to quote the startling use of the same imagery for different purposes. “Well,” he said, we must never allow ourselves to be treated as uncivilised savages when travelling abroad.

    Isn’t this where we, ourselves, are to blame? Every Lankan proficient in English “economic-migrates” to a white country; the Tamils there mostly had a better reason. But, of course, Prof. Hoole meant the poor housemaids in the Middle-East. It is their foreign earnings that allow Members of Parliament to purchase their luxury BMWs. Is nobody else reading in English uneasy about that?

    De-limitation of (the now obsolete, but still referred to “electorates”, too) is sometimes very odd. Today, I visited Ettalapitiya in the Haputale electorate. No, I did not take the Colombo Road; instead the Ettampitiya Road, that takes you ever further from Haputale.

    The reason: the M.P. for the area . . . wanted to ensure that “his” electorate had a Sinhalese enclave: important at election-time even now.

  • 0

    We had a fraudulent presidential election in 2010.
    Mahinda Deshapriya was the Commissioner General of elections.


    He should explain his absence from office on the day after the election, during the counting of ballots.
    Else, he should not become spokesperson for CEN.

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