|Monday, 5 April 2004|
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PR system must go
The people have spoken loud and clear. They have given the United Peoples Freedom Alliance led by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, an overwhelming mandate to form a new government.
The impact of the landslide People's Alliance victory is not fully felt, due to the distortions caused by the Proportional Representation (PR) system, under which the April 2 General Election was held.
The PR electoral system was introduced by President J. R. Jayewardene, who in his great wisdom designed it as a foolproof instrument to ensure that the Uncle Nephew Party was never defeated.
He undoubtedly went on the premise that the UNP would always be the largest single party.
However, he did not make provision for another party to grow larger than the UNP and also for powerful Alliances such as the UPFA as the UPFA which has proved much stronger than the 'Grand Old Party' of Sri Lankan politics. The possibility of a UNP defeat under the PR system undoubtedly never occurred to him.
If he was alive, Mr. Jayewardene would well have rued the day he introduced the PR system. For, his foolproof safety mechanism has not prevented the UNP from losing.
It has certainly created a monster in Lanka's politics. Hence, it has not reflected the true magnitude, the enormity of the of last Friday's massive Freedom Alliance victory.
If it was the First Past The Post system, the UNP would have been routed.
At a meeting with party leaders yesterday, the Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake was reported to have pleaded with the politicians to change the PR Electoral System as it was creating so many problems for the Elections Department.
All political parties have accepted the fact that the Proportional Representation System must be replaced with one more suitable to Sri Lanka.
The new Parliament must give the highest priority to changing the PR system and replacing it with a more viable one.
The PR system is the main cause of political instability in this country and the sooner it is done away with, the better. It does no one any good, not even the UNP.
South Asia's health challenges
South Asia is in poor health. This is the conclusion of a survey published in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), which notes that the region is home to a third of the world's child deaths and almost two-thirds of the global burden of malnutrition.
Pitifully low spending on healthcare, surging tobacco consumption, widespread depression, shockingly high suicide rates, wanton neglect of girls and women and unethical sales practices by the drug industry are among the problems that South Asia has to contend with.
The BMJ says the root cause is the region's low levels of spending on health. The United States spends around 4,000 dollars per person per year on health care, but spending in Nepal is just three dollars a head. In India and Pakistan it is four dollars per head.
South Asia, also comprising Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan and Bangladesh, is home to one fifth of the world's population. It is also one of the poorest regions of the world. Faced with budgetary constraints, these countries have slashed allocations on health and education.
Sri Lanka leads South Asia in most health indices. Several health indicators are on par with those of developed countries. But health expenditure remains relatively low. The new government must take immediate steps to address this issue.
While urban areas are sufficiently endowed with health facilities, most rural areas suffer from a dearth of doctors and hospitals. Developing health facilities in rural areas and raising awareness on health issues among rural dwellers are essential.
It is also heartening to note that Sri Lanka has been identified by the BMJ as the only South Asian country where girls and women do not suffer widespread discrimination in terms of basic nutrition, vaccination and reproductive health care. Priority should be given to develop more women-centred health facilities.
But Sri Lanka, like the rest of South Asia, must act to curb excessive tobacco consumption. This translates into a horrendous health cost that far exceeds gains from taxes. The consumption of illicit brews poses a similar problem.
Suicides are also high in Sri Lanka, which points to a marked lack of psychiatric counselling as there are only a few mental health specialists and suicide counsellors here. Mental health is as important as physical health. Both should be given equal prominence in formulating South Asia's health policies.
Produced by Lake House