Fast- track critical ‘System changes’ in the Electoral system and hold any Election – Bernard Fernando
The writer’s attention was drawn to the recent clarion call by several Political Parties, Opinion makers and Academics harping on the urgent need to obtain a fresh ‘People’s mandate’ ‘through a ‘General Election/Referendum. This urgency was triggered by the peaceful and intelligent youth at the ‘Aragala Bhoomiya’ who opened the doors for radical and far reaching ‘System changes’ aimed at ‘Abolition of Executive Presidency’ (Gota – Go-Home) and election of a new set of patriotic ‘Political Professionals’ to the Parliament(Curse the ‘225’) including the entire Political and Public Administration system. The corollary is to legislate a People- based New Constitution coupled with ‘Electoral and other Reforms’ towards rapid Economic recovery and Peace, leading to sustainable development of the Country. In the context of such National urgency (Not political expediency), the clarion call is fair and reasonable.
Unfortunately, the callers have seemingly not given due consideration to the danger that if such General Election is held under the existing system without rectifying the critical ‘system errors’, the Parliament will again be teeming with another cursable set of ‘225’ throwing the country into further disarray ! We have experienced their ‘bravados’ over the last 74 years with a majority of dishonest, selfish, unsuitable, corrupt and unprincipled politicians continuing to represent us in the Parliament to date.
A glaring example is the dismal failure of 5 consecutive Govts. (1994 to 2021) to abolish the ‘Executive Presidency’ which was the ‘Best Selling Proposition’ (BSP)/’Chanda-gundu’ carried in their Election Manifestoes to bait the innocent voters. As such, can we simply expect a Govt. produced under the same old Electoral system, ( hopefully after March 2023) to approve the far-reaching ‘System changes’ sought by the Peaceful ‘Aragalaya’ of our intelligent Youth? In short, it would again be a case of ‘asking for feathers from Tortoises’ and waiting for the ‘Godot’, because majority will be ‘back to business as usual’ where their pangs of ‘Power Hunger, Selfishness and rivalry’ will automatically re-appear in the House to negate the ‘System changes’ that challenge the traditional Parliamentarians, triggering another curse of the ‘225’!
Why do Voters fail to elect most suitable candidates?
Hitherto, our voters have exhibited a good sense in changing Governments. But in regard to selection of individual candidates they have failed. For example they have over the years, voted Tele-drama actresses, Cricketers, Drug/Illicit liquor/Ethanol/Sand Dealers, Bookie owners , ‘Gamey Chandiyas’ as well as candidates languishing in remand jail for criminal acts leaving young and suitable politicians in the wings ! Let us not hide the fact that out of sheer poverty, our simple voters are swayed by temporary handouts/bribes in the form of cash and kind doled out by money throwing, notoriously popular politicians. Also, another stubborn fact is that many a times, people tend to rely on corrupt and crooked politicians to get illegal and undue favours done! However, given the realty that all those misfits are selected and listed by the power hungry party hierarchies to fatten their vote Banks, under the despicable ‘Preference Voting’ system, the voters cannot be solely held responsible as they are compelled to exercise a ‘Hobsons choice’ to select ‘Mystical Horses’ from lists replete with so called ‘Political Donkeys’!
Now, the new generation youth at the ‘Aragala Bhoomiya’ and beyond with their slogan ‘Curse the 225’ and the six point programme have upstaged the ‘System errors’ in our current Electoral System accentuating ‘People’s Power’. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative to fast-track critical ‘System changes’ based on Fairness, Result Accuracy and Meritocracy highlighting a true Sri Lankan Democracy, as detailed below, to the existing Electoral System/Process, by an ‘Interim All-Party Govt. before holding a General or any other Election. It is the only way to avoid a repetition of the curse of our Politicians in the future.
Critical ‘System changes’ to the existing Electoral system before any Election
- Stipulate a mandatory method for Parties to nominate genuine ‘Political Professionals,
as the disillusioned new generation and the voting public now crave for honest, ethical and disciplined ‘Political Professionals’ who dare to place the ‘Country first’, to represent them in the National Parliament and the Provincial Councils.
Method: Since, the persuasive screening criteria suggested by ‘Paffrel’ through the ‘All-party March 12th declaration-2015’, had only a marginal effect on party nominations, the compulsive alternative is to stipulate mandatory criteria that oblige the respective parties to select and nominate their best ‘Political professionals’ in merit order to achieve the goals of the People and the country as promised in their respective 5 year Election Manifestos.
For this purpose, the National Elections Commission (NEC) should firstly abolish the optional Preference voting (PV) mechanism. Thereafter NEC should stipulate mandatory minimum eligibility/screening criteria for candidates as mentioned below, coupled with a meticulously structured, scoring interview method in the present context, for contesting parties to select their best candidates under a robust, unbiased, transparent process.
A) In addition to ‘Paffrel’ criteria, the applicants should,
i. possess at least 2 passes in GCE (A-Level) in not more than 3 attempts. (Not a tall order in the present times.). 13 years of school Education is of vital importance.
ii. possess at least one professional Diploma not less than 01 year duration, from a recognized Professional body. The change from school to open society is vital.
iii. be below 65 years of age as at last date of Nominations
iv. furnish a letter of undertaking to submit a declaration of assets as per specimen of NEC, dated within 7 days of the last date of nominations.
v. furnish a letter of undertaking to submit at the interview, a less than one- month old good- health certificate issued by a Registered Medical Practitioner.
Note: As the above is not an exhaustive list, more criteria may be added with the changing times to achieve Tax payers’ objective of deriving the best return for their massive investment.
B) Under the structured interview method, numerical values shall be adduced to traits such as Multi-Lingual skills, Computer literacy, debating ability, social integration, political, legal, Economic and Accounting knowledge plus a rounded character suitability as stipulated by NEC. Parties may add more value categories to enhance quality of selection.
C) Special pre-interview marks stipulated by NEC should be added to women and youth in order to place them in an electable position in the Party merit lists. (01 woman & 01 youth for 3 men)
Note: when the above method is followed, it will ensure that ‘fit and proper’ Representatives of the Voters, in the form of Lawyers, Accountants/Bankers, Economists, and wise and experienced ‘Political professionals’, including the required 20%% each for Women and Youth, will occupy 196 seats in the National Parliament to achieve its objectives effectively.
D) The aforesaid set of minimum eligibility criteria and interview scoring structure should be legislated well in advance of the date of Nominations so that parties can proceed with their pre-Interview screening and structured interview processes.
E) Parties should prepare their 22 preliminary merit lists of candidates using any one of the captioned lists stipulated below by the NEC and forward them to NEC before the specified date.
i. District wise list in ‘Merit order’.
ii. Electorate wise merit list in keeping with the ‘FPP System’. The Parties can assign more than one candidate to larger Electorates of its choice to meet the 196/225 requirement.
iii. Central pool of names as was adopted by the JVP up to recent times.
NOTE: i) The above lists have become necessary to appease the different Parties which favour Proportional Representation (PR) ; ‘Pre- 1978 First -Past -the Post (FPP) and ‘Central Pool’ methods so that they can satisfy their constituents.
(However, despite the advent of decentralized Provincial Councils as far back as in 1988 with 9 mini- Parliaments and the rapid advancements in Computer and Communication Technology, it is ironical that proponents of ‘Pre-1978 FPP Electoral system’ still need Political intervention by National level MPs to address and resolve all their peripheral problems at Electorate level. It is high time that we drop our overt dependence and subservience to politicians at all levels. The ‘Aragalaya’ has now paved the way for such change. The real solution lies in cutting service delays by enhancing staff productivity through effective systems and procedures in the offices of the Govt., Police and the Judiciary, using advanced Computer and Communication Technology, Mass media and efficient dispatch systems. Further, it is imperative to instill good work ethics and courtesy among the staff through ‘Customer care’ training and Staff appraisal.)
- ii) Be that as it may, if NEC ensures fundamental accuracy in determining the number of seats for wining parties (as per 2.1 below) based on ‘Equality of vote’ and guarantees nomination of ‘Political Professionals’ to occupy the 225 seats (as per 1.0 above), we do not see any further need for NEC to intervene and stipulate adhoc ratios to the Parties for assigning their candidates to any particular geographical area. Therefore, Parties can be given a free hand to assign their candidates as per the merit list of their own choice as mentioned above. In this process, the voters will also get some guidance to recognise the Quality and the assigned areas of the candidates, when they decide on which Party to vote.
F) NEC to publish the Preliminary lists as per E) above, in at least one National Newspaper in Sinhala, Tamil and English for public to raise objections, if any, before a specified date.
G) With valid objections conveyed by NEC, the parties should amend their lists and enable NEC to publish their final lists in the Press again before registration on the nominations date.
H) The parties should certify the correctness of the Screening/Interview process to the Returning officer through affidavit/s as per specimen/s of NEC. Any, immediate misinformation/lapse should permit the Returning officer to either allow rectification and re-submission before closing date or reject the name/s of such nominee/s. Later detections can be contested through an election petition.
Note: By following the above method, it would help to erase the public opinion that the Party leader is the sole selector of his ‘Henchayiyas’. On the contrary, the party hierarchies would become the best judges for selecting their nominees in merit order under a NEC procedure.
2.0 Ensure democratic ‘Equality of Vote’ as per UN Human Rights convention
Method: To guarantee an ‘equal value’ to each valid vote and accurately determine the rightful number of seats for seat- wining Parties in the National Parliament, consider the country as a ‘Single Electorate’ and apply simple % arithmetic to the Net National aggregate of valid votes of such seat winning Parties obtained by excluding total national votes categorized under ‘Others’. Thereafter, determine the District/Electorate -wise seats won by each Party by applying % arithmetic to the total No. of National seats already won. (The analytical Table in my previous article shows how the results can differ in 4 ways using 2020 General Election as an example)
3.0 Install the concept of ‘Sri Lankan ness’ permanently.
Method: The Sri-Lankan-ness exhibited at the ‘Aragala Bhoomiya’ and elsewhere in the country, yearns for the installation of a ‘Permanent Multi- Party Govt.’ (PMPG) by true Sri Lankans irrespective of Race, Religion and caste. Therefore, to reach the ultimate level of ‘Sri Lankan-ness’ and Unity, allocate the constitutionally specified number of Cabinet (30) and State (40) Ministers, to seat winning parties by applying % arithmetic so that several Main Parties will be represented in the Cabinet, creating a ‘Permanent National Govt.’ bereft of ‘deal’ politics. The port-folios can be allocated by consensus among the Party leaders, and the Prime Minister.
4.0 Ensure representation of all communities and special expertise in the Parliament.
Method: In regard to ‘National list’ MPs, the Party secretaries shall nominate and register 01 District –wise merit list containing names of 29 + suitable persons, selected under criteria and structured interviews laid down by the NEC from time to time in keeping with special objectives such as multi- community representation and special expertise.
5.0 Install a productive and a decent/ ethical political culture sans corrupt deal politics.
Method: The ‘Crossover’ mockery to be banned constitutionally. Affected Parties to nominate candidates of their choice from the relevant registered lists based on prevailing demands to fill vacancies of expelled members thereby avoiding high cost by- elections.
6.0 Make the ‘5 year Election Manifesto’, the primary consideration for voter decision.
Method: Brand it as an acceptable and prosecutable document monitored by a robust regulatory/audit procedure, which ensures implementation of Election Manifesto of the Governing Party voted in by a Country majority.
7.0 Secure a ‘level playing field’ for contesting parties.
Method: NEC to fix Rupee limits to Parties for Campaign financing. For example, a reasonable amount per registered voter can be assumed and aggregated as the Maximum National limit for any Party. The Party hierarchy at Head Office level shall take ownership of the entire ‘Election campaign’ finances subject to strict environment-friendly criteria.
8.0 Make Provincial Councils more effective and rationalise the role of Parliamentarians
Method: Give more powers (if necessary) and specific role responsibilities to PCs working under the direction and supervision of a Parliament and PC elected ‘Governor- General’ through Provincial Governors to ensure a balanced Provincial development. (The writer’s proposal for a simple method for PC Elections, on the lines mentioned above has been published in the press.)
Note: With this ‘system change’, the role of the ‘225’ MPs will be confined to meet the principal objectives of a National Parliament. viz. Law and Policy making plus sole responsibility for Public Finance including Annual/Decentralized Budgets. Accordingly, provision of Luxury Duty- free vehicles and fringe benefits will become redundant for MPs. Further, an Independent Commission should be appointed to determine Salaries and all pecuniary and other fringe benefits to politicians occupying positions.
9.0 Ensure fair and uncorrupt assistance to people through the Local Govt. Machinery
Method: De-politicize the Local Govt.(LG) Machinery and allow respectable, sociable and honest ‘Independent’ candidates from the locality to contest on the lines of the ‘Grama Rajya’ concept.(A simple method for LG Elections by the writer has been published in the press.)
Note: The above ‘System changes’ have to be suitably applied to PC Elections with ‘District’ as the ‘Electoral Unit’ and to LG Elections with ‘Divisional Secretary Division’(DSD) as the ‘Electoral Unit’. The No. of seats for each Electoral Unit shall be fixed based on latest Delimitation Report.
10.0 Ensure high productivity of the Electoral system through cost -effectiveness
Method: Hold Country –wide General, PC and LG Elections on a legally specified date. Further, ‘system changes’ such as, abolition of Executive Presidency, Preference Voting system, and ‘Cross-overs’; Limits for ‘Campaign Finance’; Specific role definitions and salary /benefits for MPs/ PC and LG members by Independent Commissions and De-politicisation of LG Elections will surely amass massive savings in Expenditure, Labour and time leading to high productivity.
11.0 Abolition of Executive Presidency
a) Firstly, repeal the 20 A and restore 19 A after suitable changes together with additional clauses by approving 21 /22 A in order to prevent dictatorial powers under 20 A being used by the President appointed for the unexpired period of the current Presidency.
b) As abolition of ‘Executive Presidency’ ‘would require a Referendum, formally adopt a specific time framed resolution for Abolition of Executive Presidency paving the way for a ‘Parliament and PC elected Statesman as Governor General cum Commander- in- chief with limited powers’, concurrently with 21/22 A. (The Referendum can be held concurrently with the General and/or PC Election by March/April 2023 to ensure cost-effectiveness)
c) Approve 22 /23 A to abolish Executive Presidency and install a ‘Parliament and PC elected ‘Governor General’ as stated above, undertaking responsibility to ensure implementation of Parliament approved Decentralised Budgets through Provincial Governors (Refer 8.0 above) and such other programmes in the ‘Election Manifesto’ of the Governing Party.
d) The above amendments should receive immediate priority of the ‘Interim All-Party Govt.’
12.0 Approval of Critical ‘system changes’ to Electoral System/Process
12.1 Given the rapidly changing behavior of the current ‘225’, the aforesaid package of ‘Electoral system changes’ plus related changes should also go into statute Books during the tenure of the ‘Interim All-Party Govt.’ to enable holding of General/PC Election/Referendum as mentioned in b) above, to comply with the clarion call by ‘People’s Power’. It is apt to strike when the iron is hot!
12.2 In the event, Supreme Court specifies clauses in the above package requiring a Referendum, such clauses also can be included for approval at the same aforesaid Referendum for abolition of Executive Presidency. Pending such approval, the General Election may be conducted with the enaction of all other ‘System changes’, if main objectives can be met.
While taking immediate steps to redeem the innocent and helpless populace from the worst economic disaster in our history, it is imperative to treat the root cause by evolving a new Parliamentary/Electoral model under a ‘Modern Representative Democracy’ and change the present Political, Voter and Media Culture to a Professional, Consensual and a productive culture.
Towards such end, all country/People loving politicians shall shed narrow Race,Religion,Caste, Political differences and power struggles and honestly form the much –awaited ‘Interim All-Party Govt.’ and consensually approve the aforesaid ‘System changes’ constituting the expectations of the silent majority upstaged by the peaceful and intelligent ‘Aragalaya’ youth. Also, rational and wise contributions from Religious/civil Organisations, and activists including sovereign voters will accelerate the process towards a fair and simple General Election for which a clarion call was made.
Let us grab this historical, golden opportunity and prevent an anarchy, the fall- out of which will surely jettison our Motherland to the dust bin of History!
Retired Deputy General Manager-BOC
Email: email@example.com Tel.Phone: 0718118443 Moratuwa.
Date: 27 -07-2022