An alternate approach to electoral reforms: A citizen’s solution

Friday, 1 May 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  By Bernard Fernando Since Sri Lanka is a very small developing country, it is befitting to have a simple political administration structure utilising its human capital in the most productive manner. Unfortunately, we are already burdened with a colossal political administration structure which is not fully of our own making. There are 4,486 politicised local government members and 455 Provincial Council (PC) members at the grassroots level. At the apex of the pyramid is the central Parliament comprising 225 members (MPs).There is one MP for every two PC members. Is it productive? We must remember that on top of all this there is an all-powerful Executive President with a huge Secretariat. The solution to the increasing the population is not to boost the number of MPs at the centre which is already top heavy but to empower the periphery with more financial allocations. Responsibilities of MPs Under the existing very wide decentralised political administration structure as mentioned above, the responsibility of the 225 MPs at the centre is narrowed down to framing and approving the country’s laws and policies in addition to approving and monitoring the national budget and financials. Visiting voters in their electorates to attend to local problems and their needs is the function of peripheral politicians such as provincial councillors and local government members. The abolition of the Preferential Voting (PV) system makes such visits to the periphery absolutely redundant. Thus, there is no earthly need to duplicate functions by assigning electorates to MPs at the centre who should on the contrary be residing in close proximity to the Diyawannawa to perform their aforementioned sacred role. Under a system of good governance, the practice of going behind politicians seeking undue favours should not arise. What is needed is to enhance the efficiency and productivity of the Public Service, which should now be motivated after the salary increase. On the other hand, how many MPs perform their primary duty of attending Parliamentary sessions faithfully? Numerous are the occasions where the sessions had to be postponed due to lack of quorum resulting in negative productivity. In such a situation how can we justify an increase in the number of heads in the Parliament? It is a crime to compel the hard-pressed tax payer to bear such enormous expenditure without any positive return. It is pertinent to mention that MPs qualify for a lifelong pension by merely marking five years whereas a public servant has to toil for more than 30 to 35 years to be entitled to his pension. A simple solution While denouncing the efforts of some politicians to increase their lot in the guise of assigning an MP for each electorate through a mixed voting system, we as taxpayers and sovereign voters wish to propose the following simple system based on the foregoing logic without increasing the existing number of MPs: 1) Abolish preferential voting system and conduct elections as usual. 2) Total up the nation-wide votes obtained under each party symbol. 3) Compute the percentage of votes obtained by each such party against the total number of valid votes cast at the election. 4) Determine the number of seats to be allocated to each party symbol in terms of their percentage, out of 225 seats. What has been done under the above four steps is to treat every vote as of equal value and distribute the 225 seats based on total vote % obtained by each party, thereby ensuring the most fair and accurate representation of people in the Parliament as illustrated in the table. It is noteworthy that smaller parties will get their due recognition. However, if there is a need to discourage proliferation of such parties, a minimum cut off-point say 2.5% may be imposed and the allocation of seats can be done excluding the votes obtained by disqualifying parties. Also, the entire country is regarded as one electorate, as the objective is to elect members to the central Parliament. Therefore, the issue of delimitation doesn’t arise under this proposal and the elections can be held at any time after the reforms are approved. 5) The next step is to identify MPs to fill the already allocated 225 seats; 12 million voters cannot be expected to screen these 225 people to test their credentials as hitherto done under the PV system. Obviously, the onus lies on the respective political parties who have been hitherto nominating their candidates on a district-wise basis. The much-sought change is the adoption of a new set of very stringent selection criteria in terms of the recently delivered ‘Code of Ethics for Nominations’ by PAFFREL. We hope that it contains a clause that prevents the disgusting crossovers by MPs. Nonetheless, the crossover phenomenon must be sealed constitutionally as otherwise the entire election process will become a meaningless mockery in the eyes of the sovereign voter. Thus, it is critical under this proposal for the contesting parties to select and nominate the most loyal team who can implement the party manifesto to the satisfaction of the voter and the country. 6) Though it is technically possible for all contesting parties to submit island-wide nominations, it is difficult for smaller parties to do so. However, at this juncture we propose to dispense with the National List of 29 members and allow the parties to include their names too in the main list thereby augmenting the quality of the party list. As a result, all parties can technically nominate 225 candidates. However, to meet situations arising from premature deaths or other unavoidable circumstances, we propose that each district list be allowed three extra nominations at the bottom. 7) The district-wise party nomination lists would best be prepared in the order of merit to facilitate the voter to give due consideration to the quality of the candidates when deciding on his vote. Further, it will assist the parties to select the successful candidates from a merit list. However, the critical factor for voter decision should be the party manifesto, which should be distributed among the voters together with the nomination list, well in advance of the election. Since it is the vote governing document, it must be made legally enforceable through electoral reforms. 8) By adopting this procedure it will be seen that the parties will be nominating and selecting their final list of Parliamentarians from district-wise lists. It is noteworthy that the JVP adopted this method even under the preferential voting system. Accordingly, it is possible to hold elections no sooner than the necessary reforms are approved by the Parliament without going through the rigours of a fresh delimitation exercise. Paradigm shift in political culture imperative We are confident that a group of 225 honest, decent, ethical and morally rich professionals with the country at heart will be elected to the Parliament under the aforesaid selection criteria. This paradigm shift in our political culture is imperative and already happening where two sides will maintain a consensual relationship rather than a confrontational stance to achieve the common objective of developing the country and its people under a system of good governance. In such a scenario, phrases such as hung parliament and stable government will become misnomers. Finally, we wish to propose that the fixed number of seats in the Cabinet also be allocated in the aforesaid proportionate manner so that the sovereign voter and small parties like TNA and JVP will be represented at all levels of governance, thereby creating a true people’s government. Moreover, it provides the solution to our internationalised 13+ issue by justifying the ‘+’ component. We earnestly appeal to all fair-minded citizens, civil organisations and politicians to work towards these electoral reforms to ensure a simple, fair, equitable and a productive system of governance in Sri Lanka. (The writer is a Retired Deputy General Manager of the Bank of Ceylon.)