Can we hold free and fair elections without system changes?

Saturday, 11 March 2023 00:04 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Repeatedly holding elections using failed electoral systems under the pretext of so-called ‘free and fair’ elections to protect a basic human right is tantamount to sheer hypocrisy and deception – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

Recently, one of the rare ‘country-first’ political professionals in the current Parliament had suggested holding both Parliamentary and LG Elections on the same day. May be as an economist he wanted to make the budgetary provision of Rs. 10 billion more meaningful, productive and cost-effective in the face of the dire human and financial/economic catastrophe that the country is facing as a bankrupt nation. Further, it may, to some extent, justify the estimated Rs. 72 billion earmarked to be spent by contesting political parties for election campaigning and also save millions of man hours when conducting a laborious country-wide, complex and unrefined election process that we are saddled with, for the last several decades. 

However, we as sovereign voters facing a dire human, financial and economic crisis exhort that it is more fundamental to make critical system changes and revamp our defective electoral system, as repeatedly holding elections using failed electoral systems under the pretext of so-called ‘free and fair’ elections to protect a basic human right is tantamount to sheer hypocrisy and deception, particularly when it is marketed hot on the heels of the recent ‘Aragalaya’ which targeted a regime change coupled with robust ‘system changes’ in our electoral system. Unfortunately, they too seem to have jumped into the rickety old election band wagon without insisting on system changes towards free and fair elections…behold! This is Sri Lanka! 

Whither long overdue system changes?

More than a decade ago, when our economy was not in the doldrums as now, the writer and several other sovereign voters with ‘country at heart’ suggested to the authorities to hold more compatible Parliamentary and Provincial Council (PC) Elections on a single day for the aforementioned reasons. Moreover, to make our corrupt and unproductive four-tiered political administration structure consisting of Executive Presidency, Parliament, Provincial Councils (PCs) and Local Govt. bodies (LGBs), more objective and productive, the writer has been continuously knocking at the door since 1997 to depoliticise the bottom level LG tier and allow the citizens to take it over, in line with the ‘Grama Raajya’ concept. 

As a result of the proposal falling on deaf ears, the rate paying citizens are now fed up with the present Local Govt. administration where political bias, corruption, arrogance and self-aggrandisement are the hallmarks. Thus, they desperately look forward to a ‘system change’ in alignment of which, the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) has developed a very appropriate model with independent ‘Jana-Sabhas’ (JS) at Grama Niladhari Division (GND) level. The writer was made to understand that the process to give JS legal recognition is nearing completion. The writer’s supportive proposal in the press giving a simple methodology to elect JS representatives at GND level to replace political party candidates too has fallen on deaf ears.

The continued failure of the successive Government to abolish the Executive Presidency which all parties prioritised in their manifestos with much hype since 1994, shows the depth to which our political culture has degenerated. The writer’s proposal to at least depoliticise the Executive Presidency to strengthen the checks and balances under the 3 pillars too was ignored. 

Aren’t sovereign voters entitled to propose system changes?

As regards, system changes to the General and PC Election process, the writer’s package of proposals as a sovereign voter were submitted to the Cabinet appointed eminent lawyers’ Committee (2020), Parliament appointed Select Committee on Election Reforms (2021), Election Commission and Voter dedicated Civil Organisations (2021) all of which merely acknowledged receipt without any further ado.

The sad irony today is, when the sovereign voters ask for a system change or rationalisation of the existing political machinery to cut down corruption, wastage, costs and improve productivity and accountability, the traditional Parliamentarians who ‘piggy back’ the sovereign voters, simply ignore their voice without giving a tuppence worth for system changes upstaged by our intelligent youth through the recent peaceful Aragalaya. Instead, they have chosen to expand their corrupt political industry by splitting like hydras, aided and abetted especially by the powerful electronic media lending undue prime time news coverage to the power hungry ‘225’! 

Their dubious promises and fallacies on the TV tempered with a haughty and aggressive tone clearly indicate that they are determined to grab power by hook or by crook and continue their confrontational culture inside and outside the Parliament as usual. Naturally, the current set of politicians are allergic to electoral system changes for fear of losing their status quo, while many are waiting in the wings to qualify for duty- free luxury vehicles, pension, personal staff and numerous other perks and allowances at the expense of the tax-payer! On the other hand, some political parties may be wishfully thinking to come to power and effect some system changes so that they too can qualify to announce “Api thamai hondatama kaley”! (It was we who did the best!) As a result of such manoeuvres and tantrums, the slogan ‘Ditch the 225’ will re-emerge and the country will submerge! 

The next sad irony is, some civil and voter dedicated organisations and political pundits have chosen to ignore fundamental system changes to the existing complex, defective, unproductive and high-cost electoral process under the pretext of a bogus ‘free and fair’ elections to safeguard so called democratic rights of the voters. Thereby, they have allowed the said coterie of shrewd and selfish politicians to place the ‘cart before the horse’ and test their strength through a futile LG Election at a cost of Rs. 10, 000 million and force a General Election also under the existing hackneyed and defective system (another Rs. 10,000 m!) so that they can be back to business under the same old, debased political culture by postponing the system changes for another five years! 

Can a bankrupt nation allow old and unproductive systems to perpetuate?

‘Country first’ political professionals will surely realise that this is not the time to catch ‘Election fever’ and push the burning problems of the people who have already taken to streets against sweeping increases in taxes and electricity, to the back burner. The country is reeling, unable to even think of the colossal debt burden both local and foreign that is building up on a daily basis.

Therefore, desperate taxpayers/sovereign voters genuinely interested in the development of the country, firstly demand an uncorrupt and wise political administration system produced by a really free and fair elections (recently echoed by the US Senate too) through crucial and cost-effective system changes as recommended below.

i) Contestants from independent ‘Jana sabhas’ to replace political party candidates at grass root level LG elections thereby converting LG bodies to nurseries moulding future ‘political professionals’ instead of becoming breeding grounds for ‘corrupt politicians’.

ii) Abolish ‘Mixed Member Voting’ (MMV), ‘Preference voting’ and ‘Cross over’ mechanisms to pave the way for election of wise and genuine ‘country-first political professionals’ from ‘district-wise merit lists’ of parties selected through a robust, standardised procedure subject to minimum eligibility criteria and a structured interview system laid down by the National Election Commission (Writer has already spelt out a methodology through the Press). This is a major system change sought by the peaceful youth Aragalaya too.

iii) Members to Provincial Councils (PCs) and National Parliament to be elected purely on district and country-wide ‘% representation’ basis respectively, enabling all voters in north, south, east and west to vote for only the party of their choice as ‘True Sri Lankans’ carrying a ballot paper of ‘equal value ‘untainted by race, caste or religion as propounded by UN Convention-1948. This is an important prerequisite for the national reconciliation exercise.

iv) Secure women and youth representation (20% each) by mandating inclusion of at least one woman and one youth (below 35 years) among every five persons in all district/electorate nominee lists in merit order.

v) A “Sustainable ‘Sri Lankan’ Cabinet” to be formed based on National vote %, so that smaller parties too could join the Cabinet. This step will resolve our national question paving the way for our country to become a model ‘five-star’ democracy with ‘Sri Lankans’ as its citizens.

vi) Brand the five-year election manifesto as a regulated, prosecutable document that primarily determines voter decision.

vii) Objectively strengthen PCs and rationalise the role and fringe benefits of MPs.

viii) Take cost-effective steps to ensure maximum productivity of the electoral system. E.g. Hold General and PC Elections and if possible, the relevant referenda too on the same day after introducing the electronic voting system. 

ix) Executive Presidency to be abolished with effect from a specified date, through a referendum, (if possible on the same day of the General and PC Elections) and replaced with a Parliament and PC member appointed Governor General as the usual Commander-in-chief with ceremonial powers plus limited powers to execute Parliament approved laws, programs, and national and decentralised budgets through Provincial Governors appointed by him/her. The Constitutional Council shall nominate three candidates for the post of Governor General who will report to the Supreme Parliament.


Due to corrupt, unprofessional, parochial and confrontational party politics, the country has missed several golden opportunities to put it back on track after overcoming uprisings/disasters such as 1971 Insurrection, 1989/90 Insurrection, 2004 Tsunami, 30-year war, COVID-19, 2019 Easter carnage and the recent ‘2022-Aragalaya’. Therefore, we as citizens with country at heart, re-appeal to the President, Prime Minister and the entire Parliament to place the country first and exercise their political will in unison, irrespective of narrow party politics, colour, creed and caste, to speedily legalise the above objective system changes leading to real free and fair elections and referenda as suggested above and replace this failed and rotten system of corrupt and confrontational politics with a clean and consensual political culture. Only such a paradigm shift tagged with corresponding changes in our media and peoples’ culture can convince the new generation and the sovereign voters to halt the brain drain of professionals thereby preventing our bankrupt nation being thrown to the dustbin of history.

Therefore, let us all unite and make this ‘cultural revolution’ etched in golden letters in our history books so that the world at large will not only hasten to pay a glorious tribute to Sri Lanka but also provide us the much needed economic assistance to redeem our country from its present plight. If there is a will there is a way!

(The writer could be reached via email at [email protected])

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