Centre for Policy Alternatives on 11 October, 2007

Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms

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The
Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and the Centre for Monitoring
Election Violence (CMEV) made their representations to the Select
Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms last week. The representations
covered a wide range of issues pertaining to the electoral system
of Sri Lanka including its election laws, constitutional structures
and other relevant political principles. In particular, the representations
concentrated on the following issues:

  • The need to adopt an electoral system based on the German mixed
    system which includes the important ?topping up? principle
    which many mixed systems proposed in Sri Lanka between 1995 and
    2000 did not feature

  • The need to ensure that the power of the voter as opposed to
    the power of the political party is not reduced in any new electoral
    system

  • The importance of retaining the essence of the system of proportional
    representation while changing the particular kind of proportional
    representation as enshrined in the Constitution of 1978

  • The importance of reintroducing the freedom of conscience of
    Members of Parliament

  • Serious shortcomings in the 17th Amendment to the Constitution
    with respect to the Elections Commission.


With regard to the 17th Amendment moreover, the CPA and CMEV made
the further point that the scheme and intention of the Amendment
as an instrument of furthering good governance requires its provisions
to be interpreted in that spirit. Therefore, while the CPA and
CMEV accepted that the President may have been right in asking
for a reconsideration of the nominees to the Elections Commission,
to refuse to act on the recommendations of the Constitutional Council
for a second time, and thereby to effectively cripple the setting
up of the Elections Commission, would be contrary to the 17th Amendment.

The CPA and CMEV also stated that the prevalence of widespread
electoral violence and malpractices and the deficiencies of the
procedures and institutions for the conduct of elections were the
primary motivation in promulgating the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.
In that context, it is a sad irony that of the four independent
commissions established under the Amendment, only the Elections
Commission is yet to be set into operation. CPA and CMEV asserted
as a serious concern the prospect of the Elections Commission being
unimplemented before the impending cycle of elections to the Provincial
Councils commencing in February 2004.

Regarding an electoral system for the future, the CPA and CMEV
were of the view that the German mixed system, whereby one half
of legislators are elected on a simple plurality of votes in constituencies,
while the other half are then elected according to the proportion
of votes secured by a political party on the basis of a national
list of fixed rank order, would be a useful model. The possibility
of multi-member constituencies was also canvassed as a way meeting
the concerns of minority communities and smaller parties. The CPA
and CMEV also observed that in their experience of election monitoring,
the preferential vote system, much criticised for exacerbating
intra-party rivalry in the competition for preferences, was not
the principal cause of electoral violence and malpractices. On
the contrary, it was the very intensity of inter-party competition
that seemed to do so. Furthermore, the preference vote had the
advantage of empowering the voter as opposed to the party leadership

The representations
of CPA and CMEV regarding freedom of conscience and of the need
to move away from the uniquely Sri Lankan concept
of ?party democracy? as opposed to the universal principle
of representative democracy, also touched upon the issue of intra-party
democracy. CPA and CMEV identified the lack of intra-party democracy
as an acute problem confronting all political parties, and urged
the Committee to address its mind to this key question in making
its recommendations for transforming the culture of electoral politics
in Sri Lanka.

With regard to the freedom of conscience of Members of Parliament,
the CPA and CMEV argued that such freedom was intrinsic to the
notion of deliberative democracy. Members of Parliament in their
role as representatives of the people in the legislative assembly
of the nation should have the freedom to do so in the best interests
of the people. At times this would require Members to asses the
interests of their constituents in terms at variance with that
of their party. The principle that Members who do so should be
protected is essential if Parliament is to operate as a genuinely
deliberative assembly and not merely as a congress of party ambassadors.
In order to prevent abuse, CPA and CMEV suggested that MPs who
were expelled from their parties for voting or acting according
to conscience should be prohibited from accepting positions in
the executive and should sit as independent MPs for the remainder
of the parliamentary term.

The CPA and CMEV also asked the Committee in making its recommendations,
to bear in mind the broader debate on constitutional reform and
federalism in Sri Lanka. In this respect, CPA and CMEV stated that
a second chamber in the central legislature was a fundamental feature
of successful federations and that the ramifications of bicameralism
should inform the way the electoral system of the country is reformed.



Rohan Edrisinha
Director – Legal

Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms
Press Release on representations to the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reforms