Two-thirds for reforms | Daily News


 

Two-thirds for reforms

PR and cut off-point killed democracy

The fifteenth Parliament of Sri Lanka was dissolved at the first available opportunity; ending a lackluster hundred days with a minority government marred by an unresponsive opposition that held the majority.

Obtaining a two-thirds majority at the General Election is not beyond for the government in terms of the mandate received at the last Local Government and Presidential Elections. There is little or no room for a divided opposition in their efforts at turning back the rush. The Government is keen to go for constitutional reforms after receiving a two-thirds majority.

Under the old Westminster style electoral system, J R Jayewardene swept the board in 1977 conquering the then PA led by SLFP Government; people expected miracles. The sequential change of Governments at every election did little to find solutions to the burning issues. The rule of Rajapaksas labeled as family rule by opponents united the country under one flag which fought a civil war for 30 years, which is a historic recurrence in contemporary Sri Lankan political history.

We are approaching another landmark in end April, the 2020 General Election where the voters get a chance to elect their representatives to Parliament. Since that vast electoral victory in 1977, which rendered the UNP to the Parliament by an unprecedented 5/6th majority, the electoral system was changed from first-past-the-post to Proportional Representation to ensure that the winner would not get an absolute power. JR’s agenda was to hold onto power for ever and also ensure his dictatorial constitution to last forever.

The PR system made smaller parties, especially the ethnic based ones to have a fair input which is at times became harmful to political decision making: the cutoff point fixed at 12.5 was reduced to 5% with ulterior motives.

The new system that entitled each voter four votes; the first vote had to be cast to the party and the other three called preferences to be given to three candidates of the same party. The elections were conducted based on former electorates, but the election of representatives was done on a district basis according to the total number of preferences polled from the district. MPs were called District members, though the old seats were retained for party organisational purposes.

Consistent Parliament for President

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is not a member of a political party clearly needs a consistent unit as his Government with a small Cabinet though, an efficient one with enthusiastic, educated and intellectuals as public representatives to develop the country. Politicians who cry for good governance, transparency and constitutional changes only when they were in the Opposition but when they had power during the past they did not practice such issues and make transformations.

Prevention of ethnic rifts by omitting forces usually hang about causing political instability with their diverse agendas is a must. Under the PR system, obtaining a two thirds majority by one single party or an alliance is difficult but not impossible. In 2010, UPFA almost reached the target with 144 seats. The PR system needs to be changed to a mixed one of old Westminster style and PR. Now that President Rajapaksa and brother Mahinda as Prime Mister are firmly on hold, an opportunity to obtain a 2/3rd may not seem a distant reality. A huge victory for the government at the April General Elections is a foregone conclusion going by the results of the Presidential and PC elections supporting this presumption.

As per the PR electoral counting system, the winner of a district gets a bonus seat, and on that possibility, the Pohottuwa is decisively on course to obtaining over 145 seats, and if the Government wins 130 seats at first count and win at least 15 districts outright that would facilitate 145 seats making the 150 or two thirds majority a simple task. The landslide victory won at the November 2019 Presidential polls, there was a widespread assumption, on the possibility of attaining this seemingly unrealistic target. Many political statisticians working ambitiously on their own mathematical ‘formulae’, make a strong claim in support of the argument quite positively, but marginally differ on the number of seats, ranging from 140 to 150 plus. Past statistics proves in an election that follows a victory even by a small margin within a few months, the winning side, is capable of securing a further ten to 12 percent votes added in their favour.

Ranasinghe Premadasa narrowly scraped through with a 50.2 percent victory at the December 1988 Presidential elections, however, at the February 1989 general elections that followed three months later, his government received 57 percent of valid votes. Therefore, a prediction of a 10 to 12 percent increase at the April 2020 polls over the November Presidential election results, an almost 2/3rd with bonus seats added is achievable. The PR system introduced under the 1978 reforms had vandalised the whole election process. Under the earlier system, elections were held by the electorate and voters had the option of casting their vote to the candidate of their choice. The candidate who scored the highest number of votes was declared MP elected and he directly represented the people of that electorate in Parliament. Under PR a man from Galle could be nominated to contest even Kandy. The person assigned was called the organiser appointed at the sole discretion of the party leader.

Electoral reforms a must

The electors had no choice but to cast their votes for the candidate imposed on them. The democratic right of the elector to select, elect or reject a candidate of their choice was compulsorily taken over by the party leadership, killing the concept of Representative democracy. Further, he was also directly responsible to his voters. Accordingly every electorate had a permanent representative in Parliament unlike in the present system of PR where you get a large number of electorates without a MP.

The PR system not only turned this upside down but killed the spirit and foundation of representative democracy that existed since receiving universal franchise in 1931.

The candidates were compelled to run around the whole district spending Rs 25 to 40 million to canvass preferences clashing with own party members and even killing each other. The matter did not end there; back in power, they had to recover the millions spent for election through illegitimate or dishonest methods. It had created unhealthy competition, more divisions and disorder. For the intelligent voter, it is high time to think of this sad situation; there is someone who is really interested in changing the trends at the helm, drop some of the negative clauses in 19A, introduce new reforms transferring additional powers to him. Generally, politicians, let it be SLFP, UNP or any other party, their attitude towards the people are clear. They will never change status quo, as it interferes with their own interests.

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