What civil society ignored
Posted on November 26th, 2018

By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha Courtesy Ceylon Today

I realized when what is termed civil society threw its weight behind Maithripala Sirisena at the end of 2014, that it was divided between those who hated the Rajapaksas and those who wanted good governance. Sadly, the last four years have shown that the former are dominant, and even those who want good governance have subordinated this to the hatred.

Or perhaps one should say fear. I do not think Venerable Rathana Thera is motivated by hate, but throughout 2015 he seemed more fearful of the Rajapaksas than of the whole scale abandonment of good governance by the new government. The Bond Scam after all occurred in February, and Ranil Wickremesinghe’s prevarications on the issue began in March. The subversion of the commitment to reduce the powers of the President through checks and balances, by instead transferring powers to the Prime Minister, was obvious from the moment Jayampathy Wickramaratne unveiled his draft amendment. Equally telling was the determination to have a larger Cabinet than pledged after the next election, and the adamant refusal to introduce the pledged electoral reforms that would have increased the accountability of Members of Parliament and introduced a better selection process.

Nothing was done about the following solemn commitments in the President’s manifesto:

• The number, composition, and nature of the Cabinet of Ministers would be determined on a scientific basis.

• The Parliamentary Committee System for Ministries will be reinforced.

• An independent assessment of the merits of each Ministry would be undertaken and this will be subjected to the supervision of the Members of Parliament.

• A code of ethics binding on all people’s representatives will be legally enacted to prevent provincial politicians and their henchmen engaging in fraud, bribery, corruption, rape, murder, and other similar things on orders and political patronage they receive from higher ups. Stringent measures will be taken to prevent unjust influences, irregular actions and conduct, oppression of the people, threats and intimidation, unjust use of force and neglect of public services on the part of the people’s representatives.
Given that the President knew hardly anything of what was going on in those early days, and left the running to Ranil, it is not surprising that he ignored all this and concentrated on collecting money to pay debts and prepare for the General Election. But it is immensely sad that civil society did nothing about any of these. I did try then to develop contacts with Venerable Sobitha Thera, whom I had not known before the Presidential Election, and I found him deeply upset about what was going on. But he was not well and did not want to take a strong stand publicly. And the same went for Venerable Rathana Thera, whom I visited at his temple, when he was immensely kind, and gave me potions for diabetes, but did not seem inclined to lead a campaign for serious reform.

It was also shameful that civil society seemed to care nothing for electoral reform. In this regard, the UPFA tried to take a stand, and protested when the 19th Amendment, as drafted by Jayampathy Wickramaratne and his cronies ignored this subject altogether. The President’s manifesto had drawn attention to several of the ills attending on the existing system, in the paragraph immediately after the significant pledges noted above:

Amending the electoral system

Another serious problem that our Sri Lanka Freedom Party led government failed to address during the last twenty years is the change of the electoral system. The existing electoral system is a mainspring of corruption and violence. Candidates have to spend a colossal sum of money due to the preferential system. I will change this completely. I guarantee the abolition of the preferential system and will ensure that every electorate will have a Member of Parliament of its own. The new electoral system will be a combination of the first-past-the-post system and the proportional representation of defeated candidates. Since the total composition of Parliament would not change by this proposal, I would be able to get the agreement of all political parties represented in Parliament for the change.

Further, wastage and clashes could be minimized, since electoral campaigns would be limited to single electorates.”

To its credit, the UPFA criticized this lapse, and were assured by the President that he would insist on a 20th Amendment to follow straight on from the 19th Amendment.

He pledged he would not dissolve Parliament before electoral reform was carried. Unfortunately, my suggestion that it be incorporated in the 19th Amendment was dismissed on the grounds that would be too complicated, a singularly silly argument, given how complicated the 19th Amendment was. To show how easy it was, I did propose this amendment to the 19th Amendment:

Introduce a new Section 23 A, which reads as follows:

Delete Section 95 (1) and replace with ‘Within one week of this amendment being carried, the President shall establish a Delimitation Commission consisting of three persons appointed by him who he is satisfied are not actively engaged in politics. The Commission shall be required to present its Report within six months of its being appointed.’

Delete 96 (1) to (4) and replace with ‘The Delimitation Commission shall divide Sri Lanka into 150 constituencies, so that the population of Sri Lanka shall be divided equitably between those 150 constituencies, with the variation between the constituency having the largest number of voters and that having the smallest number not exceeding 10 per cent.’

Clauses 96 (5) and (6) of the current Constitution shall remain as 96 (2) and (3).

Delete 97 and replace with ‘The President shall by Proclamation publish the names and boundaries of the constituencies, which shall be the basis of elections to Parliament at the next ensuing General Election.’

Delete 98 and replace with: 98 (1) At General Elections, each voter shall be entitled to cast two separate votes. One shall be for an individual, chosen from amongst those nominated for the constituency in which such voter is entitled to vote. The second shall be for a political party, from a list of those registered political parties that are contesting that election. Political parties will be deemed to be contesting the election if they have nominated candidates for at least 5 constituencies.

In addition to candidates nominated for constituencies, each Party contesting the election shall be entitled to nominate on a National List 10 candidates who are distinguished for service in any two of the following areas – Administration, Business Enterprises, Cultural Activities, Education, Social Service. Each Party, in presenting its National List to the Elections Commissioner shall indicate the qualifications of each candidate on that list.

(2) Each constituency will return as the representative of that constituency the individual who received the most votes cast within that constituency.

(3) One hundred more members will be returned to Parliament on the basis of the second party vote, such that the final composition of Parliament shall reflect proportionately the votes cast for each such Party.

(4) Each party shall be told the number of seats to which it is entitled based on the votes cast for such parties.

(5) All candidates elected under 98 (2) shall be seated in Parliament. For any vacancies that remain in the entitlement made under 98 (4), each party may nominate up to half the number of seats it is entitled to from the National List, to the maximum of 10. The remaining vacancies shall be filled by those candidates contesting individual constituencies on behalf of the Party who received the highest percentage of votes in the individual vote.

Delete 99 (1) to (12) and renumber f99 (13) as 99 (1). Delete therein, in (a), the section from ‘or independent group’ to ‘Parliament.’

Replace (b) with ‘Where the seat of a Member of Parliament elected on the individual vote to a constituency becomes vacant, a bye-election shall be held for that constituency, with each voter being entitled to one individual vote.’

Replace (c) with ‘Where the seat of a Member of Parliament elected by means of the Party Vote becomes vacant, the political party to which such member belonged shall be entitled to fill that seat, either through nomination of a candidate on its National List, or through the next candidate of those who contested individual constituencies on behalf of the Party who received the highest percentage of votes in the individual vote.’

Delete 99 A and replace with ‘If any party received more seats on the basis of the constituency vote that it is entitled to under 98 (3), it may retain such seats for the duration of that Parliament, and Parliament shall during such period consist of 250 members plus such overhang.’

Add 102 B ‘If the Proclamation under 97 shall not have been made at the time of the next General Election, the Elections Commissioner shall hold such election on the system described above, subject to the proviso that, instead of the 150 constituencies envisaged, he shall proceed on the basis of the current 160 Constituencies. There shall then be only 90 seats available to be apportioned under 98 (3).’

This fulfils the pledge in the President’s manifesto to have a representative for each constituency, while it ensures that Parliament will be proportionate to the will of the people. There is provision for small parties and for a National List too.

But this was shouted down, as were most of my later amendments, most members, not being very concerned with what was going on and wanting to finish soon. Dinesh Gunawardena was an honourable exception and sought to involve me in the process, but the process soon degenerated into farce.

2 Responses to “What civil society ignored”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    The National List is a National Curse!

    No one should hold a parliamentary position without being elected. Due to the National List, legislators cannot be termed elected representatives. It is a tragedy.

  2. nilwala Says:

    Rajiva is right about the Hatred and Fear factors being used to drive politics in and around Colombo in particular at this time….all in the name of majoritarian “Democracy” in a Parliament that has never before been constrained by a majority factor.
    What is going on today is a test run of what is to come using social media and cellphone connectivity from a central place which may explain the siege at Galle Road. One can only hope for a Judiciary that sees the writing on the wall and does the needful.

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