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Electoral reforms must come first –

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha


Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, a distinguished academic and political analyst told the Sunday Observer, that a mixture of the proportional representation system based on constituencies plus a ‘national list’ will be ideal to select members to Parliament. He said the electoral reforms, a second chamber and proposed parliamentary advisory committees should precede a new constitution.

Prof. Wijesinha had earlier served as the Director General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) and later as Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights prior to his appointment as a National List MP to the new Parliament, by President Mahinda Rajapaksa last month.

Q: Your entry into Parliament where your father served as a Secretary General for long years must have been an emotional experience. Can you define your future role as an MP?

A: The most important thing is that, we now have an opportunity after 33 years to restore the dignity of Parliament. It was destroyed by the constitution and the practice of President Jayewardene. The Parliament has three functions, passing of laws, budgeting and the control of finances to ensure money of the executive is spent properly, and the representational function.

With regard to the representation – this is a job easier on the national list MPs. We don’t have to ask for votes. But the district MPs have a terrible job, they have to represent a whole district. If they don’t they may not win a re-election.

I think this whole electoral system has to be changed completely. Instead of working for the district the MPs should be able to work for a confined constituency where you could show results. The results are yours only, but if you work for a district the results may not clearly reflect your efforts.

The worst J.R. Jayewardene did was to create an executive from well over 100 people in a 140 member Government representation. He had Ministers, Deputy Ministers, non Cabinet Ministers, he had district ministers. This gave rise to the idea that being just an MP was a joke.

We need ‘two things’ to change this, one is a strong sensible president – which we fortunately have today- and somebody who claims a majority in parliament who allows you to do this.

Today we have about 80 people in Parliament with ministerial portfolios. The other 60 don’t feel idiots, because there are so many of us. We will have a particularly defined role to play. That role was very clearly given us recently. The President plans to have advisory committees on major areas of concern. I think this new role should be included in the constitution. It should also be emphasised that those committees should not be chaired by Ministers. But they should be initiated by the Government to ensure that proper action is forthcoming.

This setup must incorporate a system where the Government and the Opposition can work together, not to criticise the executive but to bring to its attention the things that it can’t see by itself. Of course we need a sensible and a sane Opposition for that. I have to admit that I worry if such a set up is possible with Mr. Wickremesinghe.

He was the ultimate victim of J.R. Jayewardene. He came to parliament at the age of 27. He was immediately given an executive position. Of course he was an able person but there were better parliamentarians who were overlooked. So he got this idea in his head that ‘I need office’. He had never functioned as a simple parliamentarian in his life. He had either been a minister or functioned as the Leader of the Opposition.

Unfortunately after he lost he could not come to terms with it, so the rest of his life had been an exertion to return to power. Therefore, he does not understand the cooperative, active and sensible role of the Opposition.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2010
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