A change for polls

Friday, 19 October 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

THE Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill last week changed the electoral system from the current Proportional Representation (PR) system to a mixed system of First Past the Post (FPP) and PR. The results of this will change the face of local politics in the future and need to be understood.

The public have largely confused the categories of Proportional Representation with Preferential Voting (PV), and provided arguments and views that could be considered illogical. But interestingly the Bill had the support of both the Government and Opposition voices.

Verite Research, a media analysis think-tank, in its latest report points out that the principle of PR is that political parties gain a level of representation closely aligned with the percentage of votes won. The mathematics, of the original Bill, worked out such that a difference of two per cent of the votes between 49 and 51 per cent can result in a difference of as much as 68% in members appointed. This is a large shift away from the principle of PR.

Sri Lanka also follows a PV system where voters can endorse up to three preferred candidates within their chosen party. Election violence in Sri Lanka has been popularly attributed to competition between candidates as they vie for these preference votes.

However, Verite went on to say that there is no research-based data and analysis to support the view. The view fails even at a theoretical level, because it ignores the substantial incentives for cooperation, and positive behaviours, within a PV system; and the incentives for violence in a zero sum FPP system, where the winner takes it all. The press also failed to problematise the recasting of a law, policing and election management problem, through this unexamined view, as a problem with the electoral system.

Verite insists that the most illogical of all was the conflation of this PV system with the PR system, in the over-achingly dominant view that supported dismantling PR, on the basis of presumed problems with PV. In fact, electoral systems can be designed to have PR without PV, and vice versa. Not even the minor detractors in the press, such as the JVP and the movement to abolish the Executive Presidency, were able to point to the startling flaws in the established arguments in support of the Bill.

Members of the United National Party (UNP) were vociferous in the notion that no substantial change in the electoral system would be of any benefit unless the Executive Presidency was abolished since it has the power to not only call for polls at will but direct substantial monetary resources to promote ruling party campaigns. Moreover, the appointment of key positions was also under the purview of the President, which in turn lessens the authority of the voter. The ability for the Executive President to run for office while holding the position also creates a lopsided race and this has been displayed several times in Sri Lanka’s recent past.

Empowering the Elections Commissioner to take action against candidates who ignore the law and competently implementing regulations in the run-up to polls is also essential if the changed legislations are to have their full effect. Awareness of how the new Bill will impact on future elections will also be necessary for the public to make an informed decision.