|Clarion call for PR system to go
By Tharindu Prematillake
and Ishtartha Wellaboda
electoral process needed - Monitors
Representing the only foreign observation team
at this year’s election, Somsri Hannanutak, of
the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL),
said that they were intrigued by the
preferential voting (PR) system even though it
appeared to create conflict between candidates
in the same party. However, they added that
there was significantly less violence than in
any recent poll in Sri Lanka. “We have noted
that there was significantly less violence in
Sri Lanka. However, we see that most of the
clashes had happened between members of the same
The foreign observers also noted that the
country needs to eliminate electoral impunity
and ensure the rule of law. They also cited the
need to ensure a just process to bring about a
more credible electoral process. “This will
bring about a new era for voter empowerment and
Sri Lankan democracy”, observed another.
One of the main UPFA Government slogans at the General
Election was that a two thirds majority was needed to change
the electoral system. With results from two districts yet to
be finalised, the Government seems to be in a position where
it can almost get closer to a two thirds majority. With such
a majority the possibility of changing the PR system has
become a reality.
Heightened intra-party violence has ensured that the
general election which was due to be held on April 8 is
still not complete. As a result a re-polling at 38 centers,
with a cost of 3.5 million rupees is set to take place in
Trincomalee and Nawalapitiya on April 20. Election monitors
have reported an average of 350 incidents of election
violence leading up to April 8. They attribute more than
fifty percent of those cases to intra-party violence.
The increasing number of clashes between politicians from
the same party has been blamed on the Proportional
Representation (PR) electoral system in which party members
forget all loyalties in their mad dash for ‘manapa’.
Since 2002 there has been talks in political circles for
changing the current electoral system. What has been
suggested is a hybrid system where attributes from the PR
and the First Past the Post systems are combined.
The Nation spoke to party representatives from the three
main political parties and a randomly selected group of
people from the general public to get their views on
changing the PR system.
A common agreement on an issue is a very rare occurrence
among Sri Lankan political parties. However, when it comes
to the PR system The Nation heard a unanimous call for
change and reform from all the UPFA, UNF, and the DNA as
well as the general public.
|Change not far away - Karu (UNF)
was the United National Party that first suggested that the
current PR system should be changed. In 2002 we brought
forward this idea and then created a parliamentary select
committee to study how we could formulate a better electoral
system. It was agreed to appoint a member from the
opposition as the head of the select committee, and that is
why Dinesh Gunawardena was appointed to that position.
A lot of work has been done in the committee so far. It has
been agreed that we should have a combination of the First
Past the Post system and the PR system. I believe that a
positive change to the system is not far away.
There are major deficiencies in the current system. It has
led to a lot of intra party violence, it promotes an
atmosphere where only the rich can contest an election, and
it robs the people of the basic essence of a true democracy.
India, which has a population that is many times bigger than
ours, has been able to implement a proper combination of the
two systems. Therefore, there is no reason why we can’t work
something out as well.
However, a mere change in the electoral system is not going
to be enough. The 17 amendment has to be enforced properly.
There needs to be independent police and elections
commissions, and all forms of corruption and malpractice at
elections should be removed immediately. The system needs to
be depoliticised. Otherwise it won’t matter what electoral
system we have.
All parties support changing
PR - Keheliya (UPFA)
are plus and minuses of both systems. We experienced the
First Past the Post system up until 1977. Thereafter, we
have had the PR system. There have been suggestions for a
long time that the PR system should be changed, and a
combination of the two systems should be introduced.
You can’t say that one system is ‘the’ system. The PR
system gives a voice to every single vote. However, in the
First Past the Post system it is winner take all. For
example, if one candidate gets 50,000 votes, and the next
candidate gets 49,999 votes the first candidate will get in
to parliament, but the second candidate won’t get anything.
And all the votes that he got will be wasted. Therefore, if
we just stick to the First Past the Post system you can’t
say that the majority will of the people is represented.
On the other hand, even the present system is not great.
It has brought forward a culture of violence and dragged
politics to the filthiest form possible. The expenditure
involved with contesting under the current system is
immense. Money plays a major role today and it does not let
the will of the public speak out. It’s very simple, if you
don’t have a lot of money you can’t contest today. We need
to change that and make sure that anyone who wants to
represent the people gets a reasonable chance.
We have been doing studies about the integration of the
two systems for quite a while now. We’ve been able to make a
lot of good progress and we should be able to change the
electoral system before long. I believe that all parties
will stand up and support such a change because a change in
the current system is a must.
|Change PR along with political culture
- Handunnetti (DNA)
believe that the current ‘manapa’ system should change.
There is no doubt about that. But we believe that it is
equally or even more important to change the current
political culture. There is unbelievable corruption,
malpractices and violence taking place today. Everybody is
making such a big deal about changing the system, but they
seem to be forgetting that no matter what system we have Sri
Lankan elections will continue to be a shameful exhibition
as long as we don’t see a change in our political culture.
Even with General Fonseka in jail we were able to get the
second highest percentage as a party. We had to overcome
many obstacles thrown at us in order to make such a
significant achievement. Our performance in the election is
an example to all, on how to contest an election while
respecting law and order and basic human decency.
You saw how members of the Government fought against each
other in the past election. People need to ask themselves
whether that is how politicians who respect the people
should be acting. Politicians from the other parties go
killing each other and then go and blame the electoral
system for everything. How convenient is that?
It is true that certain changes should be made to the
current system, but I don’t think that, that is the most
important issue at hand.
Padmakanthi – Janitor
“The present elections
system should change to allow for better representation for
the villages. When we are faced with a problem, there is no
one that we can go to because there are no direct
representatives for our area.
Politicians are using this system as an excuse not to work
for the people. They say that people from a particular town
did not vote for them, so they will not go there.
This system has separated the politician from the people. As
we can see there is no proper representation for individual
electorates. There are seats in rural areas with no
As long as we can remember there were two main political
parties. And it was mainly politicians from those two
parties that represented the people and worked for them.
Other political parties would simply pop up only during
election time and then disappear. So, even if the election
system changes it won’t effect the representation in the
parliament too much”.
Padmananda – Elderly gentleman
“Yes they should
completely abolish the preferential voting system. Under the
PR system we see nothing but intra-party violence. Even
during the last election it was reported that most of the
fighting occurred because people from the same party
fighting for preferential votes.
Politicians should realise that no matter what, the people
will vote for the most suitable person who has worked for
their community. People know how to separate what is good
from what is bad. Therefore, all this fighting for
preference is pointless.
I have heard that some parties are against this saying that
they will lose their voice in the parliament. The truth is
that we have never seen any of these people speaking up for
the people or working for them. I believe that the president
has a clear vision and that under this system he will be
able to reduce the cabinet and concentrate on developing the
Gedara Tikiribanda - Ice cream vendor
the PR system is a very good move. This system does not suit
this country. Those days there was the UNP and the SLFP and
they always kept the democracy alive. People were satisfied
with what these parties had to offer. Now we see so many
parties on the ballot paper, but they are never there when
we want something done.
These people are trying to ruin the country. They get all
these funds from NGOs which goes straight into their own
pockets. It is clear that they don’t want to do any good for
the people but for themselves. Lankan politicians are
corrupt and crooked. This system must change.
I believe abolishing the PR would be a good move to ensure
this change. It is time that the president, as the nation’s
leader, took the initiative to change this corrupt political
- Auto rickshaw driver
As long as this system
is around people from the same party will continue to bite
each other over votes. Because of this we have lost a
If you take any electorate, there are representatives from
various parties there, but none of them are from the area.
These politicians come down to the people during the
elections and then they completely disappear. Before the PR
system there used to be proper representation for each seat.
And if there is someone who genuinely worked for his seat
even he might lose because of these imported candidates.
Look at all these artists and various other celebrities who
got elected this year. They are not from the areas that they
represent, but were elected simply because of their star
power. I have heard that one such actress that got elected
has said that she will move to the district that she
represents, but what good will that do. You cannot expect a
single candidate to work for the votes of a complete
Also look at the length of the ballot papers this year. It
was almost impossible to find the symbol of the party that
we were voting for. There were an impossible number of
parties and most of them were unheard of. Few years ago the
ballot papers were only a few inches long. Now they have
become several feet. This has to change.
Kusumpriya - Salesman
When J.R Jayewardene
introduced this system I believe his intention was to stop
the minority parties like the Tamil United Liberation Front
from coming into power. However, I don’t think even he
foresaw the devastation that this system would bring.
Therefore, I believe the people have given a clear mandate
as they have given such huge number of seats. The recent
polls have shown that the people want the president to make
some clear reforms in the Lankan political system.
In the past there were so many learned people in the
parliament. Those people had a passion and a drive to work
for the people. But today we see that the man, who has the
most money, can organise the best district-wide advertising
campaign to get into the parliament. Then, at the end of the
day, all of his promises end up being limited to his
cut-outs and posters.
Kaluarachchi - Retired govt. servant
preference system is useless. What good has it done to the
country? It has corrupted the entire political system. Those
days a political party was like a family, sure there were
problems, but they never openly attacked each other or
killed each other.
The people will always vote for the most suitable person
despite what they do. This trend must change. Otherwise, the
country will never be developed. Even all these party
crossovers are happening because the ruling party is trying
to obtain more power. This would not be necessary any more
as the people have given a clear mandate this time. The
voters are clearly demanding change.