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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 ( sinhala & tamil) as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

19 Oct 2012

The passing last week of the Local Government Elections Bill was a singularly important occasion. It abolished the single most destructive element of our current political system, the preferential system of voting operating over large electoral units. To tabulate the vicious elements of this system, it

  1. Requires candidates to canvas on a massive scale, entailing excessive expenditure
  2. Creates rivalries between candidates on the same slate, leading to violence as well as electioneering at more intensive and expensive levels than are readily affordable
  3. Makes impossible a close link between elected members and constituents on a scale that can ensure responsibility and accountability
  4. Demands excessive spending over a large area to ensure continuing popularity
  5. Entails using supporters on a scale that increases expenditure
The system then was a breeding ground for rent seeking and corruption. It also took attention away from legislative responsibilities as well as policy formulation. I can only hope then that this initial step will be followed by abolishing this pernicious system for Parliamentary as well as Provincial Council elections.

The urgent need of reform in this regard overcame to my mind the numerous flaws in the bill. I was glad to note that this seemed to be the view of the opposition too, for it did not press the amendments it had suggested, but instead accepted the assurance of government that changes could be made subsequently.

One exception was the speech made by Sajith Premadasa with regard to changing the provision in the Bill that 25% of the candidates nominated ‘may’ be women and young persons. He moved that 20% should be women and 20% young persons, which is of course the only way of ensuring increased representation of these categories. Indeed I believe this is the first instance of a wish list being included in legislation: while it may be interesting to introduce good ideas in all future legislation (perhaps by tagging on to every new Act the suggestion that we should all love one another, or refrain from criminal actions, or anything else we think desirable), it is more sensible to make laws about what must happen, not about worthy possibilities.

Rajiva Wijesinha

February 2013
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