Prof.Rajiva Wijesinha M.P.
Ideas for Constitutional Reform 1 – Electoral Reform
I believe it is essential to reform Parliament, to establish fixed terms to avoid elections being manipulated for the advantage of the ruling party, and to have a Second Chamber based on equal representation for all provinces, so as to promote the consultation of regional interests in legislation. Many of our problems have sprung from hasty legislation, while international experience teaches us that a second chamber, with powers to go through legislation calmly, can often save government from the excesses of emotional responses to particular situations, whether economic or political or social.
However, whatever changes are made, the first house of Parliament, which is supposed to be elected on the basis of providing representation to the people, will be supreme. We must therefore put in place changes to allow the representatives thus elected to fulfil their principal roles effectively. For this purpose we should change the constitution so as to
1.ensure responsibility of members for a limited area and accountability to a constituency
2.To ensure that Parliament as a whole is proportionate to the wishes of the electorate
I would suggest therefore that the House of Representatives consist of two hundred Members elected on a mixed system. One hundred of them will be elected on the basis of constituencies in which the electors shall be similar in number. Such constituencies shall be prescribed by a Delimitation Commission which shall combine the Grama Niladhari Divisions into Constituencies which have commensurate numbers or as near commensurate as possible.
Voters shall vote for individuals in these constituencies. They may give up to three preferences in order, of which only the first shall be counted initially. This is in accordance with the alternative system of voting. After the first count, unless a candidate has received over half the votes cast, the candidate with least first preferences will be eliminated, and such candidate’s preferences redistributed. The process shall be repeated until one candidate shall have received 50% plus one of the total votes cast.
Voters will also cast a second vote for a political party. The remaining hundred members of the House of Representatives shall be chosen so as to reflect the proportion of votes obtained by each party. Each party shall submit a list known as the Party List. After the constituency representatives are declared elected, parties shall receive an allocation that brings up their total representation in Parliament to the proportion they received in the Party vote.
In the event of a party receiving more seats on the Constituency Vote than the proportion it receives on the Party Vote, it will not receive any seats on the Party Vote, but the surplus shall sit in the House of Representatives which, for that Parliament alone, may have more than 200 members. If independent candidates are elected on the Constituency Vote, without being part of any Independent Group obtaining Party Votes, they too may constitute a surplus for the life of that Parliament.
These suggestions mean that the old constituency system, whereby members were responsible for a limited area that they could look after effectively, will be restored. However, to avoid the lopsided results that that system gave rise to, in 1970 and 1977 (arguably the worst Parliaments we had), Proportionality is introduced through the system that originated in Germany. Additional seats are given through a list, but to top up what any party got through constituencies, so that the final result reflects the proportion of votes each party got. This ensures fairness, whilst promoting individual responsibility and commitment.