Towards a ‘People’s Govt.’: Constitutionalise the number and method of forming Cabinet

Saturday, 14 March 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

It is heartening to note that the pressure brought about by civil society over the years through the mass media has led to a positive headway being made to scrap the Preference Voting (PV) system and seal the loopholes for Parliamentary crossovers. They will surely help to change the existing scenario of ‘confrontational politics’ to a system of ‘consensual politics’. With the rare emergence of a positive and a consensual approach by both the Govt. and the Opposition of the day, when dealing with common development needs of the country and its people, we strongly advocate the formation of a permanent ‘People’s Govt.’ as proposed below, also under the ‘100-day program,’ which upholds the compelling need for good governance, justice and fair play. As emphasised repeatedly in my previous articles to the press, I wish to commence this article too by alluding to the fundamental principle of a fair and equitable electoral system. That is, a system of a) giving an equal value to each valid vote to be cast at an election whether it be in the north, south east or the west and b) giving a reasonable recognition to votes cast for all the losing parties at an election. It is the foundation of a true and a vibrant democracy especially in the present context of consensual politics which is aimed at producing a ‘win-win’ situation for all who are truly interested in our country’s development. Change the system Under the above philosophy, in the first place, we simply can’t justify the operation of the ‘First Past the Post’ system which allows the appointment of an MP to each electorate having a vastly different voter density from another. For example, as per the recently-held elections, Kayts as an electorate with 22,000 registered voters gets entitled to one MP whereas Gampaha as an electorate with 147,280 registered voters is also entitled to one MP. This is preposterous! A new delimitation exercise would be exhaustive and take another couple of years requiring re- demarcation of boundaries of electorates, etc. Therefore, at the outset, we strongly recommend the continuation of the existing Proportionate Representation (PR) system with the larger district as the electoral unit without resorting to the more complex ‘Mixed-Voting’ system. Of course, the PV system has to be abolished and replaced with the ‘Party List’ system. We repeat that in view of the existing three-tiered decentralised system of political administration consisting of the central parliament, provincial councils and the local government bodies coupled with an executive president (with less powers of course!), there is no earthly need for central government MPs to represent local electorates, as there are law and policymakers and handlers of the country’s finances at macro level. Besides, with the rapid advancements in communication technology, we don’t see any dire need for people to meet any politician at all, especially when we are moving towards a robust ‘good governance’ and a fair and efficient bureaucracy. What is necessary is to empower the provincial councils and local government bodies adequately and improve their visual presence and closeness to the public by giving more publicity to their activities through the mass media. I am truly at a loss to understand why the so-called political pundits, constitutional experts and some civil organisations refuse to understand this simple logic. Of course I can understand political committees not being willing to submit to such concepts as they have ulterior motives created by self-interest. Formation of a ‘People’s Government’ Now, with regard to the formation of a ‘People’s Government,’ we propose to apply the aforesaid logic and apportion the specified number of seats in the Cabinet in proportion to the total number of country-wide, valid votes obtained under the symbol of each contesting party. For example, if we limit the Cabinet strength to 40 ministers by Constitution and if party ‘A’ obtains 45% of the total valid votes cast at the election, it will be entitled to demand 18 portfolios. Similarly, if party ‘B’ obtains 40% of the votes it will be entitled to 16 portfolios. The balance six portfolios will be shared similarly by Parties ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘E’. It would be seen that in order to get one portfolio a party should muster at least 2.5% of the total country votes. The same arithmetic can be applied to appoint 40 Deputy Ministers constitutionally. While the Finance portfolio will justifiably go to the party gaining the highest number of portfolios, the remaining portfolios can be allocated by consensus. As we know, the PR system has stood the test of time for the last 36 years despite being subverted by annexing the PV system and to date, it is applied only up to Parliament level. Now the time is very opportune and ripe to constitutionally extend the application of PR arithmetic as afore said in to the Cabinet composition and usher in a truly democratic ‘People’s Government’. The result would be an ‘all-party Cabinet’ meaning a ‘People’s Government’ which can really moderate and fine-tune all its decisions without allowing any extreme, unilateral decisions to be taken by the Executive President who heads the Cabinet. This is supportive of the proposed 19th Amendment. Also, those who favour the need of an ‘Opposition’ should not worry as the Parliament can continue to function as it is. Thus, it will be seen that this proposal can be accommodated within the ‘100-day program’ of the Government. We urge the media, civil society, academia and the fair politicians who have the country at heart to ensure a future of ‘consensual politics’ in this country of ours. (The writer can be reached via jbvfernando@yahoo.com.)

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