Sunday, June 19, 2022

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There cannot be a better time to change Sri Lanka’s electoral system


By Gamini Abeywardane

The much debated issue of constitutional reforms has surfaced again with the widespread belief that Sri Lanka needs a system change. This is the result of the worst ever economic disaster the country has experienced in its contemporary history. It is a welcome development that the people of our country have finally realized the futility of blaming the colonial past for all the ills of our society.

Now there is unanimity that post-independence populist and opportunistic politics is the root cause of the calamity that has befallen on the country. The frustration of the people is amply displayed by the hatred and displeasure they have heaped on all 225 members of parliament in equal measure. It makes it obvious that the current electoral system has to be overhauled if we are to have the kind of parliament that people want.

The proposed 21st amendment to the constitution is an essential first step towards the political reforms that the country needs at this juncture. Piece by piece approach is certainly better as it is not practicable to introduce all the necessary reforms in one piece of legislation. The next most important constitutional amendment is electoral reforms and should be done before the next election, either presidential or general.

These reforms should go hand in hand with other essential economic reforms because there is no point in trying to rebuild the economy without removing the root causes for its collapse -- concentration of political power in one individual leading to corruption and electoral system that encourages corruption.

Moreover the current parliament and its political formation with bitter experiences still fresh in the memory, is best suited to introduce such major political changes in the interest of the country. The reform of the electoral system will also pave the way for abolition of the executive presidency if the majority of the people wish for it. Either way electoral reforms are a must because it is an undisputed fact that the current proportional representation (PR) system has largely contributed to bring down the quality of our parliamentarians and consequently the image of the whole country in the eyes of the world community.

The much maligned PR system of voting has discouraged the good and the educated from entering politics both at national and local level. In the earlier first-past-the-post system, a good man with some reputation could always aspire to enter the Parliament with a reasonable amount of campaigning within his electorate which is geographically not a vast area.

The campaigning or canvassing in such an area could be done without much cost and if the candidate is from the same electorate it became even easier because the person is already known in the area. With the introduction of the PR system the electorate has become larger and now it is one whole administrative district.

Campaigning in such an area is not possible without a colossal amount of money and unlike in the early days soon after independence, now it is the corrupt that have more money and inevitably the honest and the educated are not able to compete with such people and win an election.

In such a situation it is not fair to blame the people for electing corrupt men as members of parliament especially in a scenario where political parties continue to include corrupt men in their electoral lists. The faulty system which provides little room for good men and women to enter politics finally gives the people little choice. The parliament we have today may be the worst that this system can ever produce and that is why people have gone to the extent of branding all its 225 members as rogues even ignoring the fact there are a few honest men among them.

The poor quality of the elected representatives has contributed in large measure to the current plight of our nation. Mismanagement and economic chaos is inevitable when parliament does not have enough educated, honest men who can actively participate in debate, discussion and policy making.

Now the elected politicians have brought down the country economically to its lowest possible level since independence turning a once prosperous country to a nation of beggars. We should strike the iron while it is hot and there cannot be a better time to change the electoral system. It should certainly happen before the next election whatsoever.  


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