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JHU firm on electoral reforms deadline

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Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) is firm in its stance that the promised electoral reforms under the Maithripala Sirisena Presidency should apply to the upcoming General Election, Minister of Power and Energy and JHU General Secretary Patali Champika Ranawaka stated.

Expressing his views regarding the delay in implementing electoral reforms pledged in the 100-Day program of President Sirisena’s government, Ranawaka said they had been told the reforms would be presented next month to Parliament along with the proposed 19th Amendment to the Constitution. This had been conveyed to them at the meetings of the National Executive Council (NEC) comprising parties represented in Parliament, he revealed.

“Electoral reforms have been discussed at the NEC. All parties have agreed in principle on the need to replace the existing system with a system that is a mixture of First-Past-the-Post and Proportional Representation Systems. However, there are certain elements that we all need to agree on first before the new system is introduced,” he explained.

Ranawaka said it was important that any new system ensures three things. “Firstly, the winning party or coalition should obtain a clear majority. Second, the smaller parties should be able to obtain representation and finally, the Opposition should also be strong.”

Ranawaka stressed there was enough time for the new electoral system to be put in place at the upcoming General Election. He pointed out that the Dinesh Gunawardena Committee on Electoral Reform has done much work over the course of 12 years since its formation in 2003. “Even when it comes to re-demarcating the boundaries of electorates, it will not take a lot of time. There is enough data available for all of this to be done fairly quickly,” he added.

The minister admitted the new ‘Mixed Electoral System’ would be disadvantages for parties such as the JHU, which had made strong showings under the existing Proportional Representation System.

“However, electoral reform is one that the public wishes. We have to think of what’s best for the country. It must be enacted and we can’t possibly justify a delay on any grounds. Therefore, we will continue to push for the new system’s implementation at the next General Election,” Ranawaka insisted.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Kalutara district MP Ajith P Perera in an exclusive interview with The Nation, insisted the 100-Day program is being implemented as planned. “The only significant delay is the constitutional amendment process which is due to the debate that has arisen on the electoral reform. There is a debate if a new electoral process should be introduced before the next general election or if an exception is to be made in the case of that election,” the Deputy Minister said.

Asserting that they are in a serious effort to keep the promises given at the election, he said that there are issues which drags the process. “We are in a series of discussions on how to reconsider the electoral map. The current system of 160 electorates came up in the 1960s. Population distribution and densities have changed drastically in certain areas since then. There are some electorates with less than 100,000 registered voters while there are electorates with much larger populations. Are we going to introduce multiple member constituencies or are we going to redraw the map such that the populations are balanced? How are we to rectify the differences? These issues are delaying the process. The Delimitation Commission is currently inactive. Therefore, we have to reactivate it and work on this.” Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister added.

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