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The electoral-reform mickey

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Apart from the goodies promised (and delivered with a view to win votes in a soon-to-be-held General Election) there are two elements of President Maithripala Sirisena’s manifesto that can have far-reaching and democratizing impact. The first is the promise to interject checks and balances to the all-powerful office of the Executive President through the repeal of the 18th Amendment and the re-introduction of the 17th Amendment with relevant adjustments. As things stand it is more than likely that this will be done. Good.

The second policy pledge is electoral reform. There has been nothing more disgusting when it comes to elections than the intra-party battles for preferential votes, generally referred to as the මනාප පොරය (manaapa poraya). Campaigns, moreover, have become extremely costly which naturally gives a big advantage to the wealthy. Another objection is lack of proper representation, the argument being that the first-past-the-post system made for candidates who are more present in the particular electorate.

Maithripala Sirisena pledged to abolish the preferential system but retain elements of the proportional representation (PR) model. Now it must be mentioned that strong local government bodies ensure that each electorate will have a ‘visible’ representative in decision-making bodies at the local level. Provincial Councils are more ‘distant’ and have other issues of relevance which, of course, are a different topic altogether. There can be PR models sans a මනාප පොරය , but regardless of that reform is imperative.

As things stand, we have Ranil Wickremesinghe insisting that Parliament  will  be  dissolved in late April. We also have the Chief Government Whip Gayantha Karunathilaka saying that in all likelihood the next General Election will be held under the existing system. ‘Lack of time’ is the common excuse offered by those who echo this view. Lack of time, that is, to set things up for a different system within ‘The 100 Days’ (the shorthand for the implementation of ‘urgent reform’ promised in the President’s manifesto).

Surely, the architect of Maithripala Sirisena’s manifesto would have known before hand about the relevant difficulties, if indeed there are any? If so, one must conclude that they deliberately misled the voters on this one!

The truth, however, is that it CAN be done. The Elections Commissioner no less has stated that the relevant delimitation exercise (if that were needed) can be done in 45 days. Dinesh Gunawardena who headed a committee on the subject agrees. K D Lalkantha of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna observes that it is a promise that has to be delivered on. 

If this Government abandons for reasons of political expediency one of the two major promises pertaining to reforming the overall structure of governance, those responsible, especially President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, stand indicted for irresponsibility and hoodwinking the electorate.

It is simply not possible to purchase the lie of ‘time-lack’ especially when it will result in the people being saddled for another six years with the necessarily flawed representation that can flow from a flawed electoral system. There is something horrendously immoral about treating the 100-day self-imposed limit as an article of faith while being patently faithless about a key policy-reform pledge to the electorate.

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