Electoral reforms stir apprehensions

[TamilNet, Monday, 20 March 2000, 12:46 GMT]
Leftist coalition partners of Sri Lanka's ruling People's Alliance and minority parties in the country's Parliament said today that they will not fully support the reforms to the island's electoral system which the government of Chandrika Kumaratunga plans to introduce in May this year. Leftists are apprehensive that their representation in the national legislature will virtually be wiped out by the proposed changes.

Political parties and independent groups are elected according to a system of proportional representation (P.R) introduced in 1978 under the current constitution of Sri Lanka.

Fundamental reforms to the 1978 constitution for devolving power to the periphery require a two third majortiy of the 225 seats in the Sri Lankan Parliament. But it is virtually impossible for anyone to obtain such a majority under the P.R.

Tamil and Muslim parties beleive that this electoral system is essentially advantageous to minority interests because the United National Party and the P.A have to necessarily depend on them under P.R to form governments and to remain in power.

Sources at the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs said today that under the new system the Parliament will have 268 seats of which 168 will be decided on a first past the post system in the constituencies, 60 seats will be determined on the basis of the percentage of the total votes polled by each party or independent group in electoral districts and 40 seats will be allocated according to the proportion of votes polled nationally by a party or independent group.

The parties that would be worst hit by the new system of elections are the smaller Tamil parties and the leftists coalition partners of the PA. They face the danger of being wiped out as the seats obtainable on the basis of the percentage of votes polled nationwide and in the electoral districts is limited to forty and sixty respectively.

Representation from among the Tamils of the hill country districts could also decline as most of their constituencies are already demarcated in such a way as to handicap them in a first past the post contest.

The Tamil United Liberation Front, however, may actually benefit as it did in 1977 by the first past the post system if it is able to muster the general support of the Tamils in all the parts of the north and east, a party leader suggested.

A spokesperson of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, the radical marxist party which is steadily growing into a third force in Sri Lanka's Parliamentary and provincial politics charged that the two main "capitalist parties are coming together on this issue of changing the P.R system to weaken working class representation and power"

The moderate leftist coaltition partners of the PA fear worse. A spokesman of the Communist Party said that the new system would be acceptable if it accomodates some features of the German system of elections which provide a safety net for smaller parties in a similar situation.


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