By Sujata Gamage –
According to the Daily News report on Cabinet meeting of May 27th (ePaper: | Online edition of Daily News – Sri Lanka), the cabinet is deadlocked on 20A. According to other sources, The Cabinet sub-committee appointed for the purpose had an agreement on the proposed adaptation of the New Zealand method with 165 FPP seats and 255 total seats, but, at the larger cabinet meeting differences re-emerged. The meeting had adjourned giving the President and Prime Minister the responsibility to address the diffferences. Apparently, the President is meeting the UPFA group today to get their opinion. What will be the response of the UNP and the allies is the big question.
Representation for minorities, geographically dispersed minorities in particular, is essentially the issue. In my opinion, dispersed minority concerns are real, but, solutions exist. The proposed mixed member proportional (MMP) system is an adaptation of New Zealand method to Sri Lanka with ideas from Dinesh Gunawardena committee report other Sri Lanka unique adaptations thrown in. For short we shall call this method a multi member proportional Sri Lanka or MMP-LK. Here, the seats in the parliament are divided among parties using proportional representation but the performance of individual candidates in 165polling divisions is used as a replacement for district-wise performance in preferential vote or manapes. In essence if you don’t get nomination for 165 polling divisions your only chance of getting to parliament is through the other 90 seats, of which about 20-30 may go to best runners-up.
Tamils and Muslims in the North and the East are minorities at the national level but in their regions they have the strength in numbers to send their representative to the parliament through first-past-the-post (or FPP) component of a mixed member system. Indian-origin Tamils also have the power in the Nuwara-Eliya district but not anywhere else.
Additional opportunities for dispersed minorities can be created if about 10 multi-member seats are created across the country where there is ethnic diversity. Even with larger number of multi-member seats, about 120 remaining polling divisions are closed off to minority candidates because no major party would want to field minorities for these polling divisions. As for the multi-member seat solution, trust in the delimitation process is essential because returning minorities through multi-member seats is a solution s that cannot be included in the constitution. Minorities have seen gross violations of their representation rights in the most recent delimitation process for local government jurisdictions. The best person to rebuild their trust is President Maithripala Sirisena. He should personally assure minority party leaders that he will appoint impartial and representative members to the proposed delimitation commission of five.
Secondly, but, more importantly, political alliances have been used effectively by minorities to get their due representation in the parliament. In the 2010 parliament, for example, 10 out of 29 national list seats were awarded to Tamil or Muslim list members. According to our simulations, assuming voters would behave more or less as they did in the past, the proposed system will yield about 30 district list members and 30 national list members returned as members of parliament giving double the opportunity for minority parties to negotiate places in party lists. If the party lists can be ranked and closed the minorities do not have to worry about promises not being kept. Assurance of list nominations through alliances may be strengthened by mandating closed party-lists. As for the workability of closed lists, it is up to the political parties to decide.
In the final analysis, solutions exist, but, what is needed is a good faith effort by all concerned.