The National List and several other improper Parliamentary Electoral Systems must be abolished
Posted on November 19th, 2022

Chanaka Bandarage

One – person, One – vote is a cardinal principle of representative democracy. This means every citizen is entitled to elect their own representative. It personifies that all people are equal.

Casting the vote at an election is how the citizens participate in government. The MPs who get elected by the majority vote represent the citizens’ ideas and concerns in the parliament.

The National List MPs are unelected. The voter has absolutely nothing to do with them.  Basically, they do not know them.

Prior to an election, the proposed National List Mps do not engage in any discourse with voters.

Universally, the most important criterion to become an MP is that they are elected at an election by the popular vote.  The National List MPs are unelected. Thus, they have no legitimacy to sit in the parliament claiming that they represent people.

The National List system is contrary to every democratic principle and value.

Put simply, currently there is nothing more undemocratic than the National List MP system.

Based on the number of votes obtained by a political party, they are allocated National List MP slots. This is contrary to the One – person, One – vote principle. This is why it is argued that the scheme is undemocratic.

Currently out of the 225 MPs in the parliament, 29 are National List MPs – about 13% of the total parliamentarians.

The political party that has secured a National List MP slot can appoint any ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ as the National List MP. This is how the system has operated thus far. Since recently even defeated candidates (candidates that were rejected by the people at an election) have been brought in to the parliament thanks to the National List system. They are ‘back door entrants’.  The sad irony is that it is the JVP, who portray themselves as ‘saviours of democracy’ that introduced this in 2015.

Appointing defeated candidates as National List MPs is making the representative democracy a mockery.

Again, the party hierarchy has the absolute liberty and freedom to appoint anyone they wish as a National List MP. Mostly, they appoint persons whom they know that would fit-in well with the corrupt parliamentary culture and process.   

Because they are unelected, these National List MPs are not accountable to the people. They only show allegiance to their party leadership who handed them the position. It is rumored that a certain National List MP who was in the parliament only for few days collected a duty free car permit before leaving it. A car permit is worth millions of rupees. This loss must be borne by the taxpayer.

One noteworthy feature is that these National List MPs are often given plum cabinet positions.  They have held such high cabinet positions as Finance, Education, Foreign Affairs, Public Administration and Justice.

Sometimes National List positions are given to people who had spent lots of money for the party, personal friends of the party leader and media owners who freely promote the party. It is immaterial for the party leadership whether or not the National List nominees are people friendly or that they understand the pulse of the people.

The National List MP scheme was introduced by JR Jayawardane on 24 May 1988 when he was the President. He introduced the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in this regard.

On that occasion he elaborated that intellectuals, professionals, academics etc should be allowed to be brought into the parliament to run the government. He made a fine case to stress his point.

But, he failed to admit that what he was introducing was a totally undemocratic system.

By looking at those who have served as National List MPs since 1988 to date one cannot say that they have contributed to the betterment of the country. Some may have been well educated, but their contributions to the country’s development and prosperity have been dismal.

Some have been well known crooks. Even thugs, vagabonds and former terrorist leaders have sat in the parliament as National List MPs.

Like the elected 196 MPs, these 29 National List MPs have also contributed in taking Sri Lanka to its present position – we are a bankrupt country.

It is well known that an enormous amount of taxpayer funds are spent to maintain and upkeep the 225 parliamentarians. We do not need such a large number of MPs.  We are only 22 million of people. Australia has the same population; it is about 120 times bigger than us in size. Australia has only 151 elected MPs (true, they have a 71 member Senate, who are also elected).

India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Canada are all Commonwealth countries; like Sri Lanka none of them have unelected representatives of the people in their parliaments. The situation in the USA is also the same.

Again, the National List is a useless concept. It has not served the country of any purpose. It is also a White Elephant.

Sri Lanka should be ashamed of having such an undemocratic, corrupt system in place.

It is high time that we abolish this system entirely. Keeping it further will not be in the best interests of the future generations.

More things that need to be abolished:

  1. The Manapaya System (Preferential Voting). 

Manapaya has made our electoral system very corrupt and violent.

This has caused serious conflicts between candidates within the same political party.

Enormous amounts of money are needed for a successful political campaign as candidates are required to canvass a whole district. Those who have the money and power always win ahead of the less wealthy and powerful. Thus, it is possible to argue that Manapaya is an undemocratic process.

  • The Proportional Representation System.

We must bring back the Westminster style election system where people elect an MP for their constituency.  This is the pre -1978 system. The UK, Australia, Canada, India and New Zealand still have it.

We have 160 parliamentary constituencies (electorates) in Sri Lanka. People should vote for their own MP. Then, the MP is also responsible and accountable to its electorate.

By this way, the One person – One vote concept is strictly adhered to.

It is thanks to this system that Mr AsenKhudoos won the Puttalam seat by a mere 103 votes in 1970.

It is due to this that independents like Mudiyanse Thennakoon (Nikaweratiya), RG Senanayake (Dambadeniya) and Wijayananda Dahanayake (Galle) were able to enter the parliament.

Today, it is impossible for an independent to contest an election alone and enter the parliament. This is contrary to the basic democratic principles.

In the UK, Australia and Canada swaths of people win elections and enter the parliament as Independents. This is real democracy.

In those countries sometimes it is the Independents who determine who will form a government.

  • MPs should not be allowed to switch political parties.

People call our MPs ‘frogs’ as often they jump from one party to another. Most of the time these cross-overs take place in exchange of very large sums of money – this is corruption at very high end.

There are some MPs in the current parliament who have done cross-overs 3/4 times during their sejour. It is rumored that some of them are gearing up for a leap yet again.

In India, Bangladesh and Maldives an MP can be removed (dismissed) from the parliament due to floor-crossing. 

  • Abolish the system of appointing the next in line person of that party’s preferential votes list in the event of an MP quits or dies.

We must re-introduce the old style by-election system. It is the best way to test the public will of the time.

It is the 1976 Jaela by- election where the UNP’s Joseph Michael Perera recorded a resounding win that sent the signal that Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s strong government was doomed to collapse.

In Mahara by election (1983) Vijaya Kumaranathunga lost by 45 votes. But, this loss enabled him to establish as a leading political figure of the country.

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