There was a political necessity in society over a long time to effect decent electoral reforms. Necessity was to strengthen people’s representation in an improved parliamentary democracy. That required the whole electoral system to be clean and devoid of corruption. That in turn required political parties to be democratic, corruption free and accountable to the people. We therefore wish to note that electoral reforms brought to straighten the tail of the system as proposed in 20A will not meet the aspirations of the people in establishing a democratic change.
Though easy, it is a total lie to dump all evil of this electoral system on the “preference vote”. We are very clear that fusing the old first past the post system with proportional representation is not going to clean up the system. If the electoral system can be turned decent with such change, then the Indian parliament must be one with exceptionally decent personalities. In the present Indian parliament 186 of the elected MPs have criminal charges against them. The problem in India is also the untold and unspoken relationship between businessmen and black money launderers with political parties and politicians.
This cannot be plugged for good by reforms aimed at one end of the system. Let us make this unhesitatingly clear here. Unless electoral reforms bring in legal conditions to have political parties open their election funds to the people and candidates and publicly declare their campaign budgets, future elections will elect loads of corrupt representatives to the parliaments as at present.
These reforms that were reported as having now been adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers after months of haggling are nothing more than arithmetical jargon that never was the outcome of a democratic process. They were conspiratorially restricted to political parties represented in parliament and to some of their lackeys. The proposal to increase the number of MPs in parliament to a number above 225 is therefore not one that serves people. Those who now travel with the government on its footboard, those who avoid this issue, leans on the argument that increased numbers help better women and youth representation.
This is another big lie. Women and youth representation does not depend on increased numbers in parliament. That depends on how much space is given by political parties for women and youth to engage in politics. As political parties hardly provide such space, there were occasions when women on their own fielded independent candidate lists in Colombo district. This “small party” issue is also a dud concept brought forth by President J.R. Jayewardene when he switched to the proportional representation system. It is the Voter who decides at every election, which party should be “small” or big. The UNP that was in government was thus voted as a smaller party than even the LSSP at the 1956 election. At the 1977 elections when the UNP was voted to the parliament with 140 out of 168 seats, the SLFP was voted as the smallest party, even smaller than the TULF that was the main opposition. If as President Jayewardene argued, there is going to be lifetime “small” parties, it only means the people have no use of them. Therefore it is not for the people to have giant parliaments meant for these little entities.
The issue of ethnic, religious or other minority representation is one that should be seriously discussed. We therefore say, these reforms should not be restricted to parliamentary elections only. Any discussion on electoral reforms in this country must include the people’s representation in provincial councils. Provincial Councils are now the second tier in governance. If electoral reforms are placed on such a wider platform, vital representations for minorities can be discussed and worked out within a decent and a civilized system.
This is not what is acted out now. What is now acted out is a total sham sold to people under the label 20A to have those in this illegitimate, indecent parliament accommodated in future parliaments. This is amply proved right with the proposed 20A said to take effect after the next election that would be on the present system with “preferential” votes intact. If 20A is not going to have effect at the coming election, what hurry is this to push it through now, we would wish to ask. Why deny the new parliament after elections taking 20A for discussion and adoption?
There is no moral right for those who want to be MPs and Ministers after the next elections and few of their lackeys to draft 20A to be adopted in this parliament. It is the people who have the right to decide how they should be represented in parliament. This society is no haste to dialogue and discuss electoral reforms. Unlike how 19A was pushed through, 20A needs adequate time and the draft documents in at least Sinhala and Tamil languages for such discourse. We also wish to stress that in 1981, a five member Supreme Court bench headed by CJ Neville Samarakoon has very firmly determined that any change in the constitution of parliament should go before the people at a Referendum and that holds a precedent on 20A as well.
On behalf of the Coordinating Committee
(The writer is an Attorney-at-Law)