Electoral Reform on Back-Burner

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The government has conceded that the next General Election is likely to be held under the existing electoral system if Parliament is dissolved immediately after April 23 at the end of the 100 Day Program of President Maithreepala Sirisena.
 Speaking to The Nation, Chief Government Whip and Minister of Mass Media and Information Gayantha Karunathilaka insisted the electoral reforms would be presented to Parliament. “There is no question of this not happening. Everything envisaged in the 100 Day Program will in fact happen,” he said. When pointed out that some were expressing the view that a up coming general election would likely be held under the existing system, Karunathilaka conceded that may well be the case, though no final decision had been made thus far. 

According to the 100 Day Program, the appointment of an all-party committee to put forward proposals to replace the current preference vote system was due to have taken place on January 28. The program envisages replacing the Preference Vote System with a ‘Mixed Electoral System’ that ensures representation of individual members for Parliamentary Constituencies, with mechanisms for proportionality.

The program further declares that on March 2, new election laws will be prepared in accordance with the proposals put forward by the all party committee, while on March 17 amendments to change the system of elections will be placed before Parliament and passed as swiftly as possible.

However, the appointment of the all-party committee had not taken place even by yesterday (February 7) meaning that the process of introducing a new ‘mixed’ electoral system is now over a week behind schedule.

“Even if the next general election is held under the existing system, the reforms will be passed through Parliament as scheduled to ensure that elections that come afterwards would be held under a new electoral system,” Karunathilaka sad.

Meanwhile, responding to a query raised in Parliament by Opposition MP Dinesh Gunawardena regarding the delay in the process of electoral reform, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday (February 6), pointed out that Parliament had only convened on January 29 for the presentation of the interim budget. As such, he said that though some matters might be behind schedule, it did not mean that these would not be implemented and emphasized all that is pledged under the 100 Day Program would be done.

‘I agree!’ - Champika Ranawaka 

Commenting on the same matter, Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka told ‘The Nation’ that Sri Lanka is a country where we have enough data and the relevant technology to do this within two weeks. 

 “All we need to do is to ensure that a stable government can be formed, i.e. for one party or coalition to obtain 120 seats AND to ensure that smaller parties do get representation.  It is a relatively simple equation to solve where we take into account territorial size (e.g. 1000 sqkm) and representation per population unit (e.g. 150,000 voters)” he added.

‘Can be done’  - Elections Commissioner

Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya told ‘The Nation’ that no one had so far approached him regarding a change in the electoral system at an upcoming election. However, he said he had recently received a copy of the Dinesh Gunawardena Committee Report on Electoral Reform, which he is studying.

 Dehshapriya also said that a comprehensive delimitation exercise can be carried out in 45 days if necessary.  There can be other systems that do not require delimitation but addresses the vexed issue of the ‘manaapa poraya’ and it won’t even take that long to put it them in place.

‘Take even 200 days, but do it!’ - Vasu

New Left Front Leader Vasudewa Nanayakkara who was a minister of the previous United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government said electoral reform was a priority and suggested the mixed system of Proportional Representation and the First-Past-the-Post system that former Minister Dinesh Gunawardena’s Committee on Electoral Reform proposed for local government elections could be used for the national elections too.

When he was questioned over the new government’s delay on attending to the matter as they promised, he said, “When it will be attended in not important. But, they have to do it. We don’t mind 100 days or 200 days.’  However, he also added that they need to discuss further the proportions that should be done on provincial basis or district basis.

 Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Politburo Member and Western Province Councilor KD Lalkantha said that the government has to introduce a new electoral system since this was an election pledge. He added that the JVP thinks the common perception that the electoral system is the main reason for the decadent state in Sri Lankan politics is erroneous.

 While acknowledging that the process is complicated, Lalkantha asked whether the promises were given to the people without realizing the gravity of it.

Mixed-feelings about mixed system - TNA

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran said they had received indications that the up coming General Election would be held under the existing system. “As such, the new system will only come into effect (at a General Election) in another five years’ time,” he said.

While pointing out the TNA was not against the introduction of a mixed vote system, Premachandran said that serious problems were likely to arise when it comes to re-demarcating boundaries of electorates. “For example, in the hill country, steps must be taken to ensure that the Tamils living in these areas receive adequate representation. This is the case in areas where all minorities reside.” he said.

Noting that the preference vote system at least ensured representation for minorities, he stressed authorities needed to ensure that this representation is not lost under any new electoral system.

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