Reform 9I come now to what seems a contentious issue, unnecessarily so. The manifesto on which the President won the election clearly pledged that ‘An all party committee will be set up to put forward proposals to replace the current Preference Vote system and replace it with a Mixed Electoral System that ensures representation of individual Members for Parliamentary Constituencies, with mechanisms for proportionality.’

This commitment, in the 100 day manifesto, was fleshed out in the commitment to a Compassionate Cogvernment and a Stable Country, as follows: The existing electoral system is a mainspring of corruption and violence. Candidates have to spend a colossal sum of money due to the preferential system. I will change this completely. I guarantee the abolition of the preferential system and will ensure that every electorate will have a Member of Parliament of its own. The new electoral system will be a combination of the first-past-the post system and the proportional representation of defeated candidates. Since the total composition of Parliament would not change by this proposal, I would be able to get the agreement of all political parties represented in Parliament for the change. Further, wastage and clashes could be minimised since electoral campaigns would be limited to single electorates.’

This makes clear the urgent need for change. Sadly, the United National Party, having scented power, seems determined to continue with a system that practically demands corruption and violence. And while it will not openly promote corruption, the manner in which it is trying to grab vehicles from Ministries to give Members of Parliament shows that it will command resources without hesitation to promote its victory.

Fleets of vehicles naturally seem essential when candidates have to work in whole districts. So do millions of posters and hundreds of people to paste them. That in turn leads to violence that is more intra-party than between parties, since one’s immediate rivals are those in one’s own party. But presumably that matters nothing to the Prime Minister who belongs to the Divide and Rule Jayewardene philosophy in the UNP rather than the more inclusive Senanayake tradition.

The main argument against a First Past the Post system is that it distorts the will of the electorate. We saw this in both 1970 and in 1977, when governments had massive majorities in Parliament even though they had just bare majorities. But that is why the Maithripala Sirisena manifesto says very clearly that there would be mechanisms for plurality, and even more significantly, ‘the total composition of Parliament would not change by this proposal.’

This last is a crucial factor, not only to get the support of all political parties, but because anything else would manifestly be unfair. As it is, the smaller parties are not keen on the sort of change that is proposed, because it would affect them adversely. This is for two reasons.

Firstly, the system proposed means that the list members would be used to top up the numbers selected on the First Past the Post system. So, if the JVP got 5% of the vote, but no seats at all, it would end up with just 5% of less than half the seats in Parliament. If this is 1/3rd as has been suggested, of 225, then the JVP would get just just 4 seats. 4 out of 225 is just over 2% of the membership.

Conversely, the party that polled best, be in UNP or SLFP, might get 100 out of 150 seats with just 45% of the vote. It then gets another 34 seats, making 134 out of 225, which is 74%. On the other hand the second largest party could get 40% of the vote but just 30 seats. It would then get another 40% of 75, ie 30, making 60 seats altogether. That is just 27% of Parliament.

Fairness then demands that the list seats should be to compensate for the disproportionality of the FPP system. And to maximize fairness, the numbers from the constituencies and the lists should be equal. That is why the Liberal Party has for years advocated the German system, which would lead to results on the following lines –


On recent patterns of voting, such a result is likely given that regional parties will get more seats on the FPP system with a similar percentage to a national party, that might get very little, because its votes will be scattered. Having a compensatory basis for the second list ensures that parliament reflects the will of the people accurately, while the constituency list ensures alink between the people and their representative in parliament (and also reduces the cost of that representative being elected).

But there is a second aspect to the German system, which the major parties will not like. The German system gives each voter two votes, one for the individual to represent his constituency, the other for the party he favours. This is essential, because on the FPP system the tendency is fot voters to choose between the candidates more likely to win. This means that, even though they support a minor party, they will not vote for the candidate of that party because that would be seen as a wasted vote.

Giving each voter two votes allows them to select the candidate they prefer of those likely to win representation for the constituency, while also allowing them to promote the party they think can best put forward their own political perspective. Thus the JVP and the JHU would not lose out when the final composition of Parliament is decided, nor would the TNA or the various Muslim parties, whose supporters might not vote for the individual candidates of those parties in areas where they feel their following is limited.

I have proposed a Constitutional Amendment to this effect, with provision for a Delimitation Commission to divide the country into 100 constituencies with roughtly equal populations (about 150,000 according to present figures). Of course the scheme I have proposed could be amended when it is taken up, but I hope it will raise the issue and facilitate recognition of the fact that a fair system that renews the link between Member of Parliament and the people is very easy to introduce. . .

Ceylon Today 23 March 2015 –