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this is my nation
Drawbacks of the preferential system

This scramble for ‘Preferences’ highlights the inherent weakness of the Preferential voting system, as against the previous first-past-the-post system.
The Preferential system confers an undue advantage to candidates with well established credentials, as well as contenders with better financial resources.
All ‘VIP’ candidates are virtually guaranteed election under the Preferential voting system.
Another significant drawback of the Preferential system is that, it deprives certain constituencies of elected representatives, while other constituencies have many representatives. This leads to neglect of the unrepresented regions.
However, the most significant shortcoming of the Preferential system is the intra-party animosity it has generated.
Therefore, whatever the outcome of Saturday’s poll, this election should provide much food for thought, with regard to the manner in which the campaign was conducted, and the moral of the story appears to be that, a long hard look is needed at the Preferential voting system


his election should provide much food for thought and a good look at the preferential system

The nation, collectively, may have been in a period of ‘nonagathey’ for the New Year but, while most establishments closed shop, with even the military declaring a two-day ceasefire, there was one activity that did not grind to a halt: politicking for the Western Provincial Council (WPC) elections to be held on Saturday (25).
Most analysts believe the poll would be a runaway victory for the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA). This assumption is based on several factors: the opposition United National Party (UNP) is in disarray, there is a ‘feel good’ factor of the war in the North, which translates into votes for the UPFA, and past PCl elections have ended in resounding wins for the ruling party.

While it is a fact, that the UNP has been, traditionally, strong in the Colombo District, any victories it achieves in this region are likely to be offset by the gains predicted for the Alliance in the Kalutara and Gampaha Districts, the latter being an established stronghold for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the main constituent of the UPFA.
In this context, there are several election outcomes that will be watched with interest, come Sunday, when the results start trickling in. Those will be the UNP’s overall performance in an election they are expected to lose, the votes garnered by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), as well as the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and Jathika Nidahas Peramuna (JNP) candidates contesting from within the ruling Alliance, and last, but most certainly not the least, the battle for Preference votes within the UPFA. For the UNP, a victory in the Colombo District, if the party can achieve that, will be some consolation, that at least, its urban vote base of the so-called educated middle income earners is intact. But the war has most certainly enabled the UPFA to make some inroads into this terrain. If this is of sufficient magnitude for the UPFA to win the Colombo District as well, then the UNP is at a significant crossroad in its history, and would have to do some serious rethinking of the electoral strategies it is pursuing.

For the JVP, it is a different kind of test. The party has proudly boasted that, the effects of the defection of the Wimal Weerawansa led faction have been negligible, and that, it is Weerawansa who has committed political suicide. It would now have to substantiate this claim with its performance at the polls. In that sense, the credibility of the JVP is at stake too.

Weerawansa himself, and his newly founded JNP, face a similar test, as does the JHU. They have been allocated a few candidates each on the ruling party’s list; it would be up to those candidates to make good their party’s standing within the Alliance, by receiving an adequate number of ‘Preferences’. Not to do so will dilute their say within the UPFA and relegate them to the status of hangers-on to the ‘saatakaya’.

While all these issues will generate interest, perhaps most attention will be focused not on these little electoral battles, but on who the victor will be, in the tussle for the ‘manaapey’ within the ruling UPFA.

Despite all the hoo-ha about this and the millions being spent by the frontrunner candidates on their respective campaigns, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is already on record saying that, the highest number of ‘Preferences’ will not guarantee the chief ministerial post for a candidate.

Other criteria such as service to the ruling party, experience and capability will be deciding factors, the President has said, but nevertheless, several ‘unofficial’ chief ministerial aspirants are in the fray: Prasanna Ranatunga from the Gampaha District, Reginald Cooray from the Kalutara District and Duminda Silva and Thilanga Sumathipala from the Colombo District.

But, what this scramble for ‘Preferences’ does do is, to highlight the inherent weakness of the Preferential voting system, in selecting elected representatives, as against the previous first-past-the-post system, discarded since the advent of the J.R. Jayewardene Constitution of 1978.

That the Preferential system confers an undue advantage to candidates with well established credentials, as well as contenders with better financial resources, is now self evident, especially, in the manner in which the current campaign is being run.

At the 1977 General election, the last national poll held on the first-past-the-post system, many ‘big name’ candidates fell to lesser mortals: Sarathchandra Rajakaruna defeated Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike, K. Vincent Perera defeated N.M. Perera, Meril Kariyawasam defeated Colvin R. De Silva, to name a few. That kind of situation would never arise now, as all ‘VIP’ candidates are virtually guaranteed election under the Preferential voting system.

Another significant drawback of the Preferential system is that, it deprives certain constituencies of elected representatives, while other constituencies have many representatives. This leads to neglect of the unrepresented regions, and this is a malady that has affected both the UNP and the SLFP to a certain extent now.

However, the most significant shortcoming of the Preferential system is the intra-party animosity it has generated, which is on full display at the WPC poll: we are witness to the hilarious spectacle of UPFA candidates ridiculing and lampooning each other on national television networks, with hardly a mention of candidates from rival parties!
Therefore, whatever the outcome of Saturday’s poll, this election should provide much food for thought, with regard to the manner in which the campaign was conducted, and the moral of the story appears to be that, a long hard look is needed at the Preferential voting system.

 

 

 


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