Simple alternative for ‘mixed voting system’

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 7 2020
Opinion Simple alternative  for ‘mixed voting system’

A recent statement issued by NJC appearing in the press, carried the following excerpt. “We also strongly urge the Govt. to do away with the existing PR system of elections    and revert to the first-past-the post system (FPP) as it existed prior to 1978”

Since the General Election results continue to be compiled and announced on the basis of popular 160 electorates,the handy way to respond to the above statement would be to extrapolate the said FPP mechanism to the recent General Election result and compare the outcome (Column11) with that obtained by applying PR arithmetic as per ‘Present’ (Column 6) and as per ‘Real’ (Column10)as illustrated in the Table below.

In my recent article to the Press titled ‘Refine PR arithmetic and allocate seats for Parliament and Cabinet for a ‘Permanent People’s Govt.’, I have highlighted the causes for the differences between Column 6 and 10 as distortions arising from 

1) 22 Bonus Seats, 2) 5% minimum district vote requirement and 3) the large number of votes going unaccounted in the 2nd round of seat determination on a District basis. I leave it to the proponents of the FPP system to arrive at their own conclusions on the seat allocation shown in Column 11.

Thanks to the existing PR arithmetic (though distorted as mentioned above)), the recent election brought some ‘numerical sanity’ (Column 6) to Parliament avoiding a complete ‘White- wash’ that would have occurred if the ‘First- Past-the Post’ system was in operation as glaringly seen in Column 11. It is pertinent to mention that during the recent election campaign, a senior ex-minister went on record that if the ‘First-Past-the-Post’ system was implemented, their Party will easily win all the electorates meaning that nearly 95% of MPs would come from a single Party. A somewhat similar result was chalked in the Parliamentary elections in 1970 and 1977.The kind of democracy that prevailed during those time periods is no secret to the voters.

Any dispassionate reader of another recent Press article of mine titled ‘PR System vs FPP System’, would no doubt be convinced that the advantages of the PR System bereft of the despised ‘Preference voting’ system far outweigh that of the old Westminster-style FPP system. Therefore, I would refrain from elaborating on that issue. However, I admit that if one were to ask any FPP proponent, why he/she insists on reviving the old system, the stock answer would be that an MP should be there in the Parliament to look after their problems and needs at Electorate level.




My prompt response would be that the need for electing  National level Parliamentarians for each electorate became redundant with the strengthening of the ‘Decentralised Political Administration System’ through the  Provincial  Councils(PCs) armed with 9 Provincial Parliaments in 1987. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the PCs was paralysed by the MPs who jealously guarded their ‘Preference Vote’ bank in the electorates/Districts, by blocking adequate powers and recognition to the PCs. Moreover, with the rapid technological advances in communication, (Photocopy,E.Mail,Fax, WhatsApp.,Smart phones etc.), Electronic media / FM channels and highway transport compared to pre1978 era, the said stock answer/excuse to promote FPP system doesn’t hold  water. Anyway, even now 196 MPs can be easily assigned by the respective parties to look after the 160 electorates!

Failure of mixed voting system

As we know, the alien ‘Mixed voting’ system that was tested with the last Local Govt. Elections in 2018 to overcome the aforesaid issue,ended up with a whole heap of problems and complexities leading to a dramatic, (nearly threefold) increase in the total number of local Govt. members,culminating in an indefinite postponement of the PC elections.

A simple alternative for ‘mixed voting system’

In the said backdrop, we as senior citizens who have experienced our electoral process in practice for long years, propose the following objective steps to bring about a simple, low-cost as well as a fair and democratic method aimed at achieving the simple objectives of the existing high cost, complex and laborious electoral process which appears as ‘Rocket science’ for some experts in ‘Political Science’!

Towards primary 

objective of determining the number of seats won by each party  

1) Dispense with ‘Bonus seats’ and ‘5% minimum District Vote’ requirement.

2) Impose stringent eligibility and high cash deposit requirements to discourage registration of ‘mushroom’ political parties with trading and other ulterior motives leading to long ballot papers and voter confusion. At the last Election, out of 353 contesting parties, 329 Independents and others obtained a National vote ranging from 15 to 9,855votes!

3) Apply simple Proportionate arithmetic to the sum total of valid National votes of seat wining parties(Single Electorate) as shown from columns 7 to 10 of the above Table.

Towards secondary 

objective of naming MPs to fill the number of seats won by each party

1)  Abolish the much despised and corrupt ‘Preference Voting’ system.  (The existing ‘Optional’ nature of the ‘Preference Vote’ implies that this objective is secondary allowing a flexible option to the seat wining Parties)

2) Devolve total responsibility to the contesting parties to fill their seats with team members as per a list of their choice mentioned under item 5 below.

3) However, when selecting their prospective candidates, the contesting parties as corporate bodies governed by Constitutions, should at the outset, be required to meet a robust set of eligibility and selection criteria through a structured interview mechanism laid down by the Elections Commission. This process becomes compulsory in the light of main parties outrageously continuing to field ineligible candidates with notorious records and backgrounds leaving a ‘Hobson’s choice’ to hapless voters to elect ‘Horses’ from a list of proverbial ‘Donkeys’! 

With the enforcement of the said criteria, the voters will discard the hackneyed belief that the Party leader can unilaterally include his henchmen (Donkeys) in the candidate lists and accordingly, the Elections Commission can relax its focus on the election procedure for naming candidates as follows.

4) Certified names of  candidates/Team members listed as per one of the options proposed below (after reaching an all Party consensus on one option or as per the choice of the Party concerned) shall be submitted to the authorities on the Nominations date.

  a) District wise list in ‘Merit order’ as per the original system in 1978.

Electoratewise list in keeping with the aspirations of FPP proponents. In this event, either the number of Electorates can be increased from 160 to 196 necessitating a delimitation exercise OR the number of seats can be reduced from 196 to 160 sans such exercise, as the present electorate boundaries have been accepted by the people by the test of time.

Central pool of names as was adopted by the JVP up to recent times. District wise list in ‘Alphabetical order’ as done hitherto, but sans ‘Preference vote numbers’

Note: The parties can conduct their Elections campaigns based on the ‘Election Manifesto’ as well as on their selected candidates with emphasis on the option stated above. 

5) The five-year Party Policy/Election manifesto should be upgraded to the level of a ‘Prosecutable Document’ to prevent the incidence of false and utopian promises. The advent of such a legalized Election Manifesto will enable the voter to decide on his sole ‘X’ mark with more confidence. Consequently, to abide by the manifesto and deliver results, the respective Parties will have to take ownership of the ‘Team members’ they are fielding.

6) The entire election campaign should be handled by the Party Head Office as it takes ownership of its selected/Ranked Team members. As a result, ‘Campaign financing’ can be better ascertained and monitored by the authorities.

Other advantagesof the proposed method

1) With the abolition of the ‘Preference Voting system’ the voter is simply required to mark only one ‘X’ against the relevant party symbol on the ballot paper, based primarily on the 5-year Election Manifesto and the ‘Good will’ of such Party and secondarily on the given Candidate list. As a result, the rejected votes are bound to get reduced considerably.

2) The expenditure, time and energy spent by the Elections Dept. will drastically come down and the final election result can be announced by mid –night.

3) Less affluent but well-qualified candidates will not be required to finance their own campaign even within the limited area of an electorate.

4) The advent of a wise set of ‘Genuine Political Professionals’ with a high degree of ‘Common sense’ (consisting mainly of Lawyers, Accountants, Economists and Socio-political Experts) who are best positioned to discharge the objectives and functions of a National Parliament, sending  terms such as ‘Unstable Govt.’ ‘Hung Parliament’ and ‘2/3rd majority in to a limbo of forgotten things.

5) In view of 4 above, the present ‘National List’ may become redundant. Therefore, it can be either scrapped or added to 196 seats to make 225 MPs.

Further proposals

All the above proposals plus a few others have been factored into another  recent press article, enumerating  13  measures that need to be included in the ‘Electoral Reforms’ that  the ‘Yahapalana’ Govt. failed to legislate despite an All-Party Constitutional Assembly sitting on it for 4 ½ years.

Conclusion

In our view, for the foregoing to materialise, our sovereign voter dedicated Organisations like ‘Paffrel’, Caffe and CMEV should take this final opportunity and convince the National Elections Commission to expedite the appointment of a ‘Civilian Task force for Electoral Reforms’ comprising eminent retired judges and representatives of the aforesaid Civil Society Organisations bereft of politicians for whom it will be a ‘conflict of interest’ as they are only ‘Agents’ of the Sovereign People who are the ‘Principals’ in keeping with the ’Law of Agency’. However, we are confident that the MPS as legislators led by the. Prime Minister enjoying a 2/3 rd. majority in  Parliament and the President as the chief executive of the Country who values simple mechanisms and ‘Out of the Box’ proposals, will ensure the passage of these proposals under ‘Electoral Reforms’.

Bernard Fernando Moratuwa

 Email: [email protected]

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 7 2020

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