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Still on the drawing boards

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(Proportional Representation system is believed to be the most suitable electoral system for Parliamentary elections) (Proportional Representation system is believed to be the most suitable electoral system for Parliamentary elections)

The delay in implementing the electoral reforms has given rise to several questions as to whether the coming election should be held under the existing electoral system; the present preference voting system or whether it should be replaced with a mixed system.

According to the agenda of the 100-Day program of the new government, electoral reform has been given priority. Before the Presidential election, Maithripala Sirisena as a candidate pledged to introduce a mixed system, a hybrid of the First-Past-the-Post system and the Proportional system, which is believed to be the most suitable electoral system for Parliamentary elections in the country.

Upon query by The Nation, Attorney-at-Law, Shiral Lakthilaka said that another election cannot be held without electoral reforms. He further added that, “After the Presidential election, when we won, we were to make amendments considering three aspects; in the first phase to abolish powers of executive presidency, secondly, to bring reforms to the existing electoral system and in the third phase to reintroduce the 17th Amendment.”

However, Lakthilaka admitted that the implementing of electoral reforms is a time consuming process. “However, what is most important is not the time. But to enact the electoral manifesto pledged in the last election. There are also some issues that drag the implementation process. In respect of another election, an electoral reform is a must, even if it is behind the schedule.”

When questioned, Dr. Anuruddha Pradeep, Lecturer at the University of Jayewardenapura whether an election should be held as promised in the 100- Day program, he opined that the priority should be given to reform the government system, “Thus the amendment of the constitution is the most important. The main objective must not be to go for another election, but to reform the government system.” He further added that Maithripala Sirisena is the candidate pledged to make three aspects, namely to change the prevailing executive presidency, to reintroduce the 17th Amendment and to implement electoral reforms.

Dr. Anuruddha Pradeep also commented regarding the existing electoral system, “People are fed up with the preferential vote system. We can introduce the amendment to the constitution. There have been discussions and debates going on. But at least we can initiate the introduction of new electoral reforms.”
Dr. Pradeep also remarked regarding the delay in attending to the matter, “Some of the key members are actually reluctant to go for an election under a new electoral system, since their positions will be secure in the existing electoral system. In the new system they will also have to win the electorate also.” He also added that anyway this was not a simple process to go through, declaring “I didn’t believe in 100-Day program, since 100 days are not enough in reality to implement these processes. But at least we should commence what is to be implemented by now.”

Commenting on the same matter the actress, Samanalee Fonseka affirmed that a General Election is a must as promised in the 100-Day program adding that Parliament should be dissolved immediately, but failed to opine whether the upcoming election should be held under a new electoral system or not.
According to Ven. Mahamankadawala PiyarathanaThera, holding a General Election will be worthwhile for the common people once all pledges in the 100-Day program are implemented, while proclaiming, “Unless the wishes of the common people will be back-burnered”.

The Thera further added, “The previous ruling party had taken powers into their hands and the country was intentionally ignored. So the autocratic governance should be abolished immediately.”

He explained that according to the main tasks in the 100-Day program; abolishing the excessive powers of presidency, re-introduction of 17th Amendment through 19th Amendment to the constitution and introduction of a new electoral system will be a great challenge to the government in a way and on the other hand, it will be a great victory for the common people in Sri Lanka. Thera stated, “However, the situation after a General Election can’t be determined. What the people expect from the government is to enact everything pledged in 100- Day program.

Piyarathana Thera further commented that the preferential vote system has caused a lot of crisis to arise, “Under the previous electoral system, people did not have a candidate for each electorate. In such a system, the learned people lost the opportunity to get elected while those who had money grabbed the positions. So, a new electoral system should be introduced immediately in an appropriate manner in a way that ensures the representation of all the minor parties in the country.”

The Thera further stressed that the new system of elections should give weight to eliminate or minimize violence asserting that the Preferential voting system should completely be eliminated from the system.

Comprehensive reforms
 “Since 1978, our voice has not been heard in Parliament. There are gaps in the present electoral system. The people of Jaffna are not very concerned about the parliamentary elections, but they were concerned about the presidential system. When it comes to the present electoral system, the preferential electoral system should be changed,” was what Professor Theivanathan of the Media Resource and Training Center, University of Jaffna, had to say on the issue.
Senior Lecturer at the Department of History, University of Colombo, Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri said he did not have a specific opinion on the matter.
“The new president should deliver his promises. There should be a 2/3rd majority to change the Constitution. This would allow for the change in electoral reforms. The electoral system needs serious reforms. The preferential vote system can’t function. We need a more comprehensive electoral system,” he opined.

Executive Director, Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), Keerthi Tennakoon said the present government could change the electoral system within the 100-Day program. “There are presidential, provincial and local reforms. Some of these systems should be amended. Because there are gaps and they are lacking. People always talk about changing the system. Dinesh Gunawardane is the best person to put this into implementation. The present government can achieve this during the 100-Day program,” he said. He added representations of women should also be given consideration when creating a new system. 

Public consent
“When it comes to the new system we don’t want small parties to get victimized. It is very important how they are going forward with the changes.”
Senior Lecturer at the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL), Dr. Mahim Mendis pointed out the electoral system belongs to the people and as such, it should be changed according to 100-Day program.

All barriers which affect the functionality of the system should be changed. The views of Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera should be taken into serious consideration when it comes to electoral reforms, Dr. Mendis stated.

“We do not want dirty electoral reforms. We should accelerate the process. An election is not important; it is the new electoral system which should be taken into consideration. The Parliament should connect with the independent systems to expedite the system.”

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) expressed that he did not believe that it was mandatory to have elections within the time span of the 100-Day program. He said reforms should be put forward before the people.

“We have time till 2016. There have been talks for a new electoral system for over two decades now, but so far it has not been implemented. We should follow the ideas of Dinesh Gunawardane. It should be important to bring forward an election campaign. It is important to have electoral reforms in the local, provincial and most importantly parliamentary elections. It is important to focus on the campaign finances. We should also include changes to the 17th Amendment. There are many weak areas. We should also have a separate judiciary for complaints regarding elections,” he noted.

In conclusion, the general consensus is that electoral reform is much needed. The topic has been in discussion for more than a decade now. With President Maithripala’s 100-Day program the country has come closer than ever before to change the system. While many speak for the changes to be made, it has been made clear that there are problems to face such as many favoring the old system in exchange for parliamentary seats. However, the question on when it will be implemented still remains.

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