Minority Representation Through The 20A

By Shermal Kelambi –

Shermal Kelambi

The 20th amendment to the constitution seem to be hardly moving is at all. A major obstacle in its path is the objections of the minor parties in fear of being marginalized under a future system. The purpose of this article is to see to what extend their fears are true.

The discussion will be held under a few sub topics:

  1. Sri Lankan demographics
  2. Present parliament composition
  3. Past four election results
  4. Fixing the minority issues
  5. Two ballot system
  6. Ideological minority parties

Sri Lankan demographics

Before talking about minority representation, let’s have a look at the Sri Lankan demographics. Sri Lanka has a 75% Sinhalese majority, 15% Tamils and 9% Muslims. Under ideal conditions if these numbers are to reflect in the parliament, there should be 169 Sinhalese MPs, 34 Tamil MPs and 20 Muslim MPs. However the present parliament has only 28 Tamil and 18 Muslim MPs which is roughly 20% of the total representation of the Sri Lankan parliament.

Tamil Vote Photo CREDIT- REUTERS:DINUKA LIYANAWATTEA 20% representation in parliament for a 25% minority (within a system of 22 bonus seats to district winners and in a country with more than half of the minorities are geographically dispersed), it is almost close to perfection. Therefore the desire for the minority parties to hold on to the current system is understandable. Their main fear seems to be concentrated on the FPP part of the proposed 20th amendment (which is a modified MMP system). The FPP will put the geographically dispersed minorities at a disadvantage, that is their main argument. But how fair is this argument when the 165 FPP seats are all incorporated within a 196 PR allocation?

Another aspect of the debate is the national list. Present parliament has 29 national list seats and out of them 8 are occupied by minority MPs (5 Tamils and 3 Muslims).

That is around 27.5% of all seats. This is more or less similar to the demographic representation. However there is no fixed number for the national list in the proposed 20th amendment, but a 59 national reserve buffer, of which, a part will be deducted to compensate for the overhang FPP seats. So the national list seat number can usually fluctuate between 25-35 and in extreme situations can even go beyond this range.

Present parliament composition

922976_371507369624796_475705882_nNow let’s look from where the 46 minority MPs of the present parliament come from. In fact 9 of them come from Jaffna, 6 from Vanni, 5 from Batticaloa, 3 from Digamadulla. 2 from Trincomalee and 5 from Nuwara Eliya. So 30 out of 46 MPs come from just 6 districts, while there are 8 coming from the national list and in fact these 8 actually come from 4 districts as 4 from Kandy, 2 from Colombo, 1 each from Kegalle and Badulla.

There are 12 out of 22 electoral districts that do not return a single minority MP. A main feature of these 12 are that in all 12 of them the majority Sinhalese community accounts for more than 70%.

Of these, 5 district – Gampaha, Galle, Matara, Hambantota and Monaragala – the Sinhalese account for more than 90% and there is not a single minority group having a representation over 5%. Understandability, minority representation in the parliament from these 5 districts is a near impossibility.

The other 7 districts which fail to return a single minority MP are, Kalutara, Matale, Kurunagala, Puttlam, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Ratnapura. Except for Puttalam in all other 6 districts the majority Sinhalese population is over 80% and there is not a single minority community with over 10% population within that given district. Puttalam is the only exception to this rule with a 74% Sinhalese and 19% Muslim population. But out of the 8 MPs there is not a single Muslim MP for Puttalam and in fact, the last time Puttalam had a minority MP was way back in 1977 (M.H.M. Neina Marikkar for Puttalam electorate) under the FPP system. It seems like the PR system to which the minority parties are trying hard to cling on to, is not so fair to them at all places.

There is the exceptional case of Mr Kabir Hashim from Kegalle who secured 48,822 or 12.57% out of the total votes polled for that district as preferential votes in the 2010 election while the total Muslim population the district is only 7%. Given the prominence of MP Kabir Hashim within the UNP, he is capable of attracting votes from majority Sinhalese as well. Therefore, it is safe to assume that unless in a special occasion where a nationally prominent leader of a leading political party contests (as in Kegalle) the chances of a minority MP electing out of a minority community of less than 10% in a given district is quite slim.

Having said that, the present system over represents the minorities at times. For an example the Vanni electoral district (combination of Vavuniya, Mulativu and Mannar districts) has a 83.9% Tamil population, 8.2% Muslim population and 7.7% Sinhalese population. But in 2010 election while the 83% Tamil community returned 3 MPs to represent them, the 8.2% Muslim community also returned 3 MPs from Vanni.

A less dramatic thing occurred in Kandy with a 74% Sinhalese, 11% Tamil (5% Sri Lankan Tamils and 6% Indian Tamils) and 14% Muslim community, Kandy district returned 8 Sinhalese MPs and 4 Muslim MPs. The Muslim MPs were 33% of the total MP count for the district even though they were just 14% of the population.

Past four election results

Details in three tables are given here. following is the analysis

Table 1 gives the results for district level minority representation.

Table 2 gives the results for the national list minority representation.

Table 3 combines the above two and gives the total parliament minority representation.

Summarizing the charts, the district level PR representation for Tamils has been from 10.17 – 14.79% with lowest in 2000 and highest in 2004. The district level PR representation for Muslims has been from 7.65 – 9.18% with lowest in 2004 and 2010 and highest in 2001. The overall minority representation have been 18.87% in 2000, 2001 and 2010 while it was 22.44% in 2004.

The national list representation for Tamils have been 17.24% in 2000 and 2010 while in 2001 and 2004 it was 24.13%. the Muslim representation in national list is lowest in 2010 with just 10.34% and highest in 2001 with 27.58%. the overall minority representation in national list has fluctuated from the lowest of 27.58% in 2010 to the highest of 55.17% in 2001.

In the overall parliamentary composition, Tamils had a 11.55% representation in 2000 (lowest) to a 16.00% representation in 2004 (highest). Muslim representation reached the lowest of 8.00% in 2010 from the highest of 11.55% in 2001. The combined minority representation in parliament has fluctuated between 20.00 – 26.22% with the lowest in 2010 and highest in 2004.

Fixing the minority issues

To allow for the minorities to have the same amount of representation I wish to suggest 10 multi-member poling divisions.

1. Colombo Central – Muslim

2. Colombo North – Sri Lankan Tamil

3. Beruwala – Muslim

4. Harispaththuwa – Muslim

5. Nuwara Eliya – Indian Tamil

6. Maskeliya – Indian Tamil

7. Batticaloa – Sri Lankan Tamil/Muslim

8. Samanthure – Sri Lankan Tamil/Muslim

9. Puttalam – Muslim

10. Passara – Indian Tamil

With these 10 multi-member polling divisions, the (20th amendment proposed) new MMP election system will return following number of MPs for each ethnicity out of the 165 FPP seats.

15 Sri Lankan Tamils or 9.09% of 255; 14 from North and East
9 Muslims or 5.45%; 5 from North and East
4 Indian Tamils or 2.42%; 3 from Nuwara Eliya
The additional district PR seats that they are entitled to will return:

20 Sri Lankan Tamils or 10.2%); with 5 PR seats all from North and East
12 Muslims or 6.12%; with 3 PR seats all from North and East
5 Indian Tamils 2.55% with 1 PR seat from Nuwara Eliya

Therefore there will be 18.87% (37 MPs) minority representation at the district level. (Which is same as 2000, 2001 and 2010 results)

However this equation does not count Mr. Kabir Hashim from Kegalle who is a promising winner. And I also think there is a possibility for 1 additional Muslim MP from winning in both Kandy and Colombo.

Then the Muslim MP numbers increases to 15 (7.65%) which is the 2010 result and the total minority numbers goes up to 40 MPs (20.4%) which is better than 2000, 2001 and 2010 results and almost close to the 2004 result where the minorities did their best.

The national list seats will be offered to the minority members through the various alliances and understandings and just like they found a way to negotiate with the major parties in the present system, minority parties will continue to find a way to deal with the national list seats and get a larger percentage to compensate for their loses at the district level.

Two ballot system

Another compensation for the minority issue is to introduce a two ballot system as it is done in almost all the countries with a MMP system. Then the minority voters can cast the individual vote for a candidate of a major party (that represents the majority ethnicity of that polling division) who has a better chance of winning the poling division, but can vote for his/her minority party through party vote to win a seat at the district level to their ethnicity.

Ideological minority parties

An often forgotten group in the election reform discussion is the ideological minority parties like JVP and JHU, who also represent 5-10% of the population. These groups are more geographically dispersed than any ethnic minority and the FPP system is going to be most disadvantageous to this group (there is no way of these parities wining a single polling division under the present political situation). Therefore any over correction of the FPP system to suit the ethnic minorities will inevitably correct it at the expense of these minor parties.

For the ideological minority parties like JHU and JVP, the two ballot system will be even more beneficial as they are the most geographically dispersed group in our political landscape.

Therefore in conclusion, 20th amendment will not put the ethnic minorities at a disadvantage as long as enough multi-member polling divisions are created. The Muslims have a slight over-representation in the present system and they will lose that, but the Tamils will do better than they are now. A two ballot system will favor the minority parties even better and it will be of great advantage to the ideological minority parties.