Discussion Continues On Electoral System For LG Polls

  • FPTP, PR or a mixed system

by Camelia Nathaniel

UPFA MP Udaya Gammanpila: and JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva and Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister Faizer Mustapha and Leader of the Democratic People’s Front Mano Ganesan and TNA MP Dharmalingam Siddharthan

President Maithripala Sirisena recently stated at a SLFP parliamentary group meeting that the local government election would be held under the new Electorate System. However, many opinions have been made on holding the next local government election under a mixed electoral system that includes both Proportional Representation System and First Past the Post System. The matter is still under discussion.

The common notion in the country at present is that electoral reforms are a long awaited need. According to political analysts, the existing Proportional Representation (PR) system has many flaws that have paved the way only for those with the capacity to spend, to contest elections.

There is no room for honest politicians to enter the political arena as they simply cannot afford the high cost of election campaigning. The people, too, especially in the rural areas, have got used to the handouts and gifts doled out by the contenders, that those not willing or not in a position to bribe, the voters left such contenders in the lurch.

In the event of the candidates funded by these businessmen win, then they have to grant special favours to those who funded them. Morever, these illegal businesspersons then use such politicians in their illegal activities and escape the long arm of the law.

Another shortcoming of the PR system is that some areas which really need political representation in order to address the needs of the people do not get any representative.

Moreover, the preferential system now exists has caused many clashes between rival candidates that resulted in grave consequences.

According to the proposed new system, boundaries of electorates with more than 100,000 voters each or less than 50,000 will be delimitated. Under the proposed system, electorates with less than 50,000 voters are expected to be amalgamated. In Colombo, a few more electorates are expected to be formulated, while electorates with a geographical expanse of over 1000 square kilometres will be reviewed for delimitation.

However, the First-Past-the-Post System is not without flaws, the main one being that people have to vote the candidates that a party nominates. The First Past the Post (FPTP) is also known as simple majority voting or plurality voting. Under the FPTP, voting takes place in single-member constituencies.

Voters put a cross in a box next to their favoured candidate on the list of candidates and the candidate who receives the highest number of votes in the constituency wins. All other votes count for nothing.

But the so-called limited PR system is expected to help solve this problem to a considerable extent. Small parties which benefited from the PR system will be at a disadvantage under the proposed Electoral System.

Faizer Mustapha, the Minister in charge of the local governments, has appointed a committee in accordance with the Local Authorities Elections Ordinance to solve the problems regarding delimitation. It is scheduled to submit a report to the subject minister on electoral boundaries, names and numbers.

A three-member technical committee was also appointed to assist the said committee. It consists of officials that the Surveyor General, Elections Commissioner and Director of the Department of Census appointed.

According to the Minister, the reason for these additional measures was due to criticisms that have been made regarding the delimitations done in the past.

Faizer Mustapha, however, said that there is no legal provision that says the government can continue holding upcoming Local Government Elections under the Proportional Representation (PR) System

Minister Mustapha said the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act No 22 of 2012 has made provisions to introduce the new electoral system for local Government elections. He added that delimitation had not been done in 2012 when the Act was passed.

The delimitation process is now complete and the new boundaries are gazetted, he also said, adding that some parties have opposed the new boundaries.

These have to be resolved before the election is held, he pointed out. Mustapha also said the government expects to hold the election by March 2016 as planned.

However, not all parties are in agreement on holding the elections under the new system. Some believe that this upcoming election should be held under the old PR system and once all issues have been ironed out, the next election could be held under the new system.

 

Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister Faizer Mustapha

“The upcoming LG elections can only be held under a mixed system, and the Cabinet approved a suggestion brought by the Prime Minister to have women’s representatives for 1/3 of the total representatives of the LG bodies. The women’s representation will be done based on the way the national list is formulated.

“Also I have closed the period of appeals and I am to have an all party conference on the 11 of this month, and I will invite both President and PM to this conference.

As I had received many objections to the delimitations, I am trying to reach a consensus as I have received about 400-500 appeals in this regard.

I would like to see whether I can get the consensus with regard to the existing votes, in terms of the gazette passed.  “On holding the elections in March, I am really working toward that goal. It is to avoid any disadvantage to the smaller parties. When you have a mixed system it should be fair to all parties, and must accommodate the interest of all. So if we cannot achieve that, then we are going backward and not forward. So there are issues for and against, but the mandate of the people cannot be pushed back by continuing the earlier system.”

 

TNA MP Dharmalingam Siddharthan

“The new system is good for the people as they can identify their members. But today the minority parties, especially in the upcountry and the south face problems. In certain areas they won’t be able to secure even one vote because they are split and are not concentrated in one area. If you take a PR division, a small party will be able to get two to three seats, and they have urged the government to hold the elections at least this time under the PR system, until they can adjust to the new system.

“For us, the Eastern Province and certain sections in Vanni and Mannar too cause a problem. In Jaffna it’s not an issue because the winners there are definitely Tamils.

But especially in the East, it’s a problem as the Tamils are a minority. This happens in both Muslim and Sinhala dominated areas.

The boundaries have to be re-demarcated. Although the government has done this, there are issues. Hence, until this issue is sorted out, it is better to have the old system.

“Once again they are trying to re-demarcate, but I am not sure whether it will be successful. Hence, it is better to hold this election under the PR system, so we have enough time to iron out all the problematic areas in the new system and be well prepared for next elections.”

 

JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva

“Right now the local government elections have been postponed for one year and should be held definitely in March next year. There is a new electoral system but that is riddled with problems. The previous government had demarcated the areas in a manner that is beneficial to them. So, we cannot accept it and it needs to be redone.  “There are also many issues with regard to the Act. One such issue is that every candidate is required to deposit Rs. 2000, and this will be a huge burden on individual parties. There are many other issues in the new system that need to be rectified before we simply decide to hold the LG elections under this First Past the Post System.

“However, if the government still plans to hold the elections under the new system after rectifying all the shortcomings, then we feel that the LG elections cannot be held even in March and would delay even further.

This in turn is not a good attempt. Hence, we believe that the upcoming LG elections should be held under the old PR system, and the next election can be held after the government has had ample time to correct all the issues.

“Now they want to hold the elections under a mixed hybrid system, but this cannot be done. Either they should hold it under the old system or the new system. If they want to combine both systems, then they need to have a new Act passed.

“So, we feel that since the new system has been decided upon, its flaws should be rectified before the election. However, the parties need some time to get organised and adjusted to the new system. Hence, I feel the upcoming election should be held under the old system, and the next time, the new system can be adopted.

“We will be facing the LG elections as an independent party and will not be joining any coalition.”

 

UPFA MP Udaya Gammanpila:

“The present system was legalised in 2013 with our support, and we are in favour of the system which in fact will eliminate the negative features of the PR system while preserving its positive features. However, we cannot tolerate the government’s attempt to keep postponing the election using the electoral reforms as an excuse.

“Therefore, this is illegal. According to the Local Authorities Elections Ordinance, the election should be held before the expiry of the term of office of the functioning members. Hence, this is a gross violation of franchise, sovereignty of the people and as a result, issues have arisen. For instance, people complain that garbage removal, repairing of byroads and replacing street lights are at a standstill because bureaucrats are not aware of the people’s issues as they never come before the people to get their mandate. So, we urge the government to hold the LG elections as soon as possible. If the government is not in a position to hold the election under the new system, then they should hold it under the previous system and take time to make the new system effective.

“When the UPFA was in power, they may have tried to demarcate the boundaries in their favour. Similarly, the UNP is now in need of demarcating the wards in their favour.

But I think that boundary demarcating should be based on objective criteria instead of using personal preferences and ulterior motives.

We should look at it in a long term view. All political parties should look at the ways that benefit the country as a whole. They should not think of how to get personal gains from this process.”

 

Leader of the Democratic People’s Front Mano Ganesan

There is a LG electoral law now. It was passed during the last regime. It basically proposes a mixed system of the FPTP and PR systems, 70 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. But now the talking point is thedemarcations of the new LG electoral wards or constituencies.

They are absurd. Former minister Basil Rajapaksa has created wards to suit his government’s necessities. It has fallen bad on Tamils and Muslims ethnic groups and UNP and other smaller political parties.

We cannot accept this system. So we are redoing the demarcations. Our Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) is looking at the Colombo, Nuwara-Eliya, Ratnapura, Kandy, Kegalle, Badulla, Gampaha, Kalutara, Puttalam districts now. We will submit our counter proposals. We need time. We can’t do it in haste.

 

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