Electoral System Changes

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Numerous forces local and international are forcing amendments to the Constitution’s 21st Amendment using the current currency crisis as an excuse. Questions need to be asked if the reason for this crisis is the 21st Amendment or if amending the Constitution would resolve the currency crisis.

Going federal in disguise

By bulldozing the amendment these forces aim to jeopardise Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.  They aim to restructure Sri Lanka under the guise of a so called ‘United’ Sri Lanka and not a ‘Sovereign’ Sri Lanka, thereby having Prime Ministers  for each State with their own Police forces, health etc and more over the ability to receive overseas grants and loans at a State level and not at a national or central Government level.

The Constitution of a country as defined in the Websters Dictionary is as follows

1a: The basic principles and laws of a nation, State, or social group that determine the powers and duties of the Government and guarantee certain rights to the people in it

b:  A written instrument embodying the rules of a political or social organisation

2a: The physical makeup of the individual especially with respect to the health, strength, and appearance of the body a hearty Constitution

b: The structure, composition, physical makeup, or nature of something the Constitution of society

3: The mode in which a State or society is organised especially: the manner in which sovereign power is distributed

4: An established law or custom: Ordinance

5: The act of establishing, making, or setting up before the Constitution of civil laws

The above very clearly demonstrates the importance of this sacred document to Sri Lanka and for that matter any country.

This is the very reason that any changes, be it an amendment should not be railroaded or bulldozed or done hastily as the repercussions of an ill formulated Constitution will lead to more issues than the current crisis which has nothing to do with the Constitution. It will be like treating the kidney when the issue is with the heart.

Devious bars

 Sri Lanka Bar Association is one such entity that is pushing for a new Constitution to settle the current crisis and to bring normalcy to Sri Lanka. This demonstrates the level of knowledge of these esteemed lawyers have or could this be their devious and unpatriotic motives to start the separatory actions in favour of overseas based wealthy minorities even though these minority groups in Sri Lanka do not desire such separations.

The gripe they and most citizens have is for them to be represented in the Parliament so that their grievances can be aired at the most sacred institution, the Parliament so that funding and solutions can be provided to uplift these societies. This fundamental right and need were taken away from the people of Sri Lanka by the United National Party after 1977 when then President J.R. Jayewardene introduced a new electoral system – the proportional representative method of electing Members of Parliament.

True representatives

This begs the question, should not the immediate requirement be to give the power of appointing Members of Parliament to the people of an electorate? The answer should be “YES” as that will enable people to appoint MPs from their electorates and such MPs will remain responsible for the people of their electorates. The word ‘accountability’ is bandied and used extensively in corporate environments because without accountability, no organisation can flourish. This word is even more important for an organisation that has 22 million stakeholders – Sri Lanka.

The Proportional Representation system of electing Members of Parliament needs to be abolished. This system has devastated the social fabric of Sri Lanka and created politicians who are at the mercy of businessmen of various calibre from honest law abiding socially astute to absolute rogues who are engaged in businesses such as drug running, prostitution and unethical business practises.

PR system

Elections held under the PR system elects members in a multi-seat constituencies method through proportional representation system where each party is allocated a number of seats from the quota for each district according to the proportion of the total vote that party obtains in the district.

What does this mean. If simplified, the system makes possible for a Party to nominate more than one candidate for an electorate. There can be multiple nominees/candidates from each party and the one who will ultimately represent the electorate will be the person who gets the highest votes. This Member of Parliament could even be someone who does not live in that electorate and as such has no clue of the issues and aspirations of the people in that electorate and cannot be held accountable.

The person who received the next highest also plays a role in establishing the final count for the party and will not go into that as the issue being addressed is the unwanted competition between nominees of the same party.

Competition between candidates

The inter-candidate competition within the same party is what leads to corruption. It makes honest politicians dishonest as they get the flavour of making money without any effort. An election campaign around 2005-8 cost a candidate around Rupees 5.0 million for their election propaganda work. None of these candidates are millionaires prior to entering politics. These election expenses are funded by businessmen from all walks of life from the honest to those in drug running and prostitution just to name two extremes. On winning elections, these funded MPs become slaves of these businessmen and more often than not, have to provide favours which involves the turning of a blind eye to any illegal activities or providing favours like large contracts. Both these activities lead to a domino effect of corruption and an interdependency between the politician who is supposed to serve the country, to one who serves the businessmen. They end up serving the businessmen and not the people who voted them in. They are in other words accountable to the businessmen who provided funding for the election campaign.

Electoral system change

One party should only nominate one candidate for an electorate and should be from the electorate. On winning an election, the person will be answerable to the people of the electorate and will be held accountable to the people who voted.

Any infighting between candidates of the same party will cease.

All election campaign costs should be provided by the party funds and any donations made to the party should be disclosed to the public and subject to an audit by the Auditor General.

An electorate predominantly of people from a different ethnicity will often be represented by a Member of Parliament of the same ethnicity. Again, this will facilitate a greater understanding of the cultural and social needs of the people.

The cost of “Government” – State expenditure, will be reduced drastically with the reduction of the number of MPs and savings could be channelled to development activities.

These suggestions are made in the interest of the people who have been led up garden path by most Governments since 1977 thanks to the Constitution introduced by former President J.R. Jayewardene.

Politicians prior to this hailed from the electorates who mingled and lived amongst the people who appointed them to the Parliament and as a result the people of the electorate were truly represented in the highest decision-making institution of the country, the Parliament. Hence, they were respected.

We need to bring accountability back to the Members of Parliament if Sri Lanka is to progress and rise as a Nation again.

Jayantha Gonsalkorale CPA is a Director of Inventure On Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

By Jayantha Gonsalkorale