Elections and numbers

Friday, 26 June 2015 00:28 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}



By Mano Ratwatte

The current Parliament has run its due course. The character of the next Parliament is likely to be different from the one from 2010. Everyone is talking about the 20A. 19A was an excellent starting point thanks to one simple remarkable Buddhist man now sitting as President. 

People want to reform that electoral system. This Parliament has 225 members. After comparing the following numbers (sourced from Wiki and other internet quick searches), shouldn’t we ask the leaders whether such a large number of MPs is necessary if more powers are to be devolved to the provinces? 

This should give us an idea about different assemblies in selected democracies; 225 seems plenty for Sri Lanka considering the extraordinary amount of State funds that go to support them and the massive benefits they accrue.

Name of country, pop and number of seats in Parliament or Assembly

1.   Bangladesh, 156 million, 350 unicameral

2.   Britain, 64 million, 650, but more unique by having a House of Lords too; no written constitution!

3.   France 66.03 million, 577, but also has a unique executive presidency

4.   Germany 80.62 million, 637, also has a Chancellor elected by Bundestag

5.   India, 1.25 billion, 545 including two reserved seats for Anglo-Indians

6.   Japan, 127.3 million, 242 unicameral

7.   S. Korea, 50.22 million, 300 unicameral

8.   Taiwan, 23.37 million, 113, halved their seats to 113 in 2004 by vote in Parliament; incredible!

9.   USA, 318 million, 437 but has a unique bicameral system with a powerful 100-member Senate. US is different in how much power each State has

10. Sri Lanka, 20.48 million, 245 seats plus nine provincial governments with lots of perks, car permits and the whole shebang

Census data

CIA estimates/Sri Lanka Census bureau (http://www.statistics.gov.lk/PopHouSat/CPH2011/index.php?fileName=Key_E&gp=Activities&tpl=3) and (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ce.html) show the following break down

  •  Sinhalese 74.9%, Sri Lankan Tamil 11.2%, Sri Lankan Moor 9.2%, Indian Tamil 4.2%, Other 0.5% (2012 est.)
  •  Buddhists 70.1%, Hindu 12.6%, Islam 9.7%, Roman Catholic 6.2% and Other Christian 1.4%





The Elections Commission website (www.slelections.gov.lk) has a great record of results of previous elections including the 1965, 1970 and 1977. Unfortunately the site does not have a tabulation of percentages won at each Parliamentary election before 1970. 

Before other concerns being raised by purely ethnic/racial and smaller parties, how come no one is talking about the disproportionate number of female representation? The 2012 partial census reveals there are 10.72 million females and 10.06 million males in Sri Lanka. Where are the voices representing women?

Other concerns raised by some smaller parties (for their advantage) is that a switch to a straight forward first past the post (FPP) might disenfranchise smaller parties. Barring the 1956, 1970 and 1977 elections, the two major parties have split the seats in a not-so-lopsided manner outside the north.

The danger of elections being held on the FPP will be that the party that is trending at a particular period might get lopsided majorities in Parliament and hence act like overlords as in 1970 and 1977. Smaller parties cannot win seats unless it is an ethnic party in a mono-ethnic seat (north) by FPP if they do not have a no-contest pact; that has happened before.

Is it more prudent to have the election under the old PR rather than FPP for now? Remember how a regime used a “referendum” to extend the life of a 5/6th majority Parliament through sheer intimidation?

Minorities, in areas where they are the super majority will always vote for “our guy” but historically despite false accusations hurled towards Sinhalese painting them all as racists, Sinhala seats have voted for the guy representing their party rather than the person.

A good example is Balangoda. Even when M.L.M. Aboosally lost in 1965, he barely lost by 3,224 votes, getting 43.2% of the votes. In the 1977 wave, when he contested again, the Sinhala Buddhist majority voted him in with a whopping 10.85% margin and then again in 1989 the UNP won Balangoda by 61.06% of the vote.

During the CBK-led wave of 1994, the UNP managed to win the Balangoda seat by a 50.8% margin but by then the demographic pattern of the birthplace of Sirimavo Bandaranaike had altered significantly too with net inward migration of Muslim refugees from the war zones.

If PR were used in 1970 and 1977, the majorities would not been lopsided and a more representative democracy would have prevailed on matters of critical importance such as constitutional reform. 

Perhaps PR plus a number of reserved seats such as in the Indian Lok Sabha is a good solution? How about three reserved seats for Malay, Burgher and Native Vedda groups as well? These important segments of society can never be represented by elections; so why not recognise their role as participants in a more inclusive Parliament?

With PR, with its pluses and minuses may be better for a more balance Parliament. The biggest Plus is that definitely that the major representative parties cannot get massive steamroller Parliamentary majorities; the minus is that it will cut into minority vote blocs if a strict proportional system is implemented based on population percentages. No one will ever be happy. Minorities who want larger representation bigger than their numbers will be unhappy if PR or seat allocation is done on population percentages because they may lose seats. 

The table below displays numbers from presidential elections; from it, another picture emerges. The grand ole party of Sri Lanka is likely to garner more votes if the Opposition is split into camps between Sirisena and Rajapaksa, even if the UNP goes it alone.



In terms of democracy, freedom of expression, strong institutions of government, a strong independent public service, an assurance of freedom to vote as they please and not lose their job, the UNP was any better than the SLFP/UPFA in the past four decades.

The advantage and additional value the UNP brings is that the UNP is pro-capitalist while the SLFP still seems to linger in a semi-feudal stage; but both parties never having a history of grassroots democracy. 

Right now, the country needs a pro-capitalist outlook to last and it needs to reduce nepotism (seen in this regime too) and crony capitalism. Stable democracies, even the ones which arose from communist dictatorship (E. Europe) followed a path of capitalist based development. 

Unfortunately, because Sri Lankan society as a whole is still feudalistic, the so-called capitalists in the UNP themselves tend to be regressive, not only in their actions but also in their outlook. Until a nation reaches the mature democratic age, prerequisite of which is capitalist economic development, there will always be partisan politics.



If promises are to be believed, then all parties should not have on their slate the unsavoury and violent and corrupt elements of the past. 

Incumbents have earned a lifetime pension; they have duty free car permits. Isn’t it amazing to see the number of BMWs, Jaguars, Land Rovers and Range Rovers which are considered expensive even in the USA, many other SUVs, Volvos, accompanying necessary chauffeurs and phalanxes of bodyguards varying in number based on their self-importance? That culture of entitlement is not likely to change even under a new Parliament, no? 

Remittances from the blood, sweat and tears of Sri Lankan labour suffering in the Middle East is the reason such privileges can be offered our MPs. How about duty free permits for at least a Maruti for housemaids who risk being raped and abused just to remit two to three hundred dollars per month, which is soon squandered by their drug or alcohol addicted husbands? 

Net inflow from foreign remittances is over $ 7 billion per year. Whose money is this for them to award themselves all these perks? Are that many seats really needed at the Centre?

Will the past be prologue? Should anyone lose their house, job, limb or life for voting one way or the other in a democracy? Sri Lanka isn’t a mature democracy but the best is yet to come.