By P. Krishnaswamy
Published February 1st 2004 in The Sunday Observer
The interim report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform (PSCER) advocating a system of elections which would combine elements of the first-past-the-post (FPTP) and proportional representation (PR) system has drawn mixed reactions from political parties representing the minorities. While Muslim leaders welcomed it, and up-country Tamil leaders had reservations, the North-East Tamil leaders claimed that it has to be part of the constitutional package meant for resolving the national ethnic problem.
Political parties representing the minorities had urged the Committee to ensure equitable representation for minority parties in the system that would finally be proposed.
The 16-member PSCER appointed in August 2003 held 27 meetings, lengthy deliberations and examined over 320 Memoranda and representations from civil organisations and individuals before submitting its interim report to parliament. The prevailing PR system introduced in 1978 in place of the previous FPTP system has been found to be defective in many respects and led to complex social and political problems during the past two decades.
Excerpts of views:
R. Sampanthan MP, Secretary General, Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF):
"The position of the TULF and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is that the electoral reform must be part of the constitutional reform package meant for resolving the national ethnic problem. We can address our minds to that only when a Constitutional reform package is brought about which will entail substantial changes in the structure of governance with regard to the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary. Our clear position is that the electoral reform should be part of the total Constitutional reform package."
Rauff Hakeem, Minister of Ports and Shipping and National Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC): "We welcome a combination of both the FPTP and the PR system, resembling the German electoral system which, we believe, would provide for a fair representation of the minorities in Parliament, Provincial Councils and other local government bodies."
Muthu Sivalingam, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Livestock and Financial Secretary, Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC): "We do not welcome the recommendations of the PSCER for the simple reason that under the system proposed by it, parliamentary representation of Indian-origin Tamils will be substantially affected. Unless delimitation of constituencies is undertaken in the plantation areas with the view to giving them adequate representation in parliament, the system will not work for us.
In this regard, the CWC has submitted its own proposal to the PSCER and we hope it will be taken into consideration while drafting a final proposal."
Segu Issadeen, MP, Secretary General, National Unity Alliance (NUA):
"I represent the NUA in the PSCER and we fully support its recommendations on reforms to the present system. We believe that under the mixed PR and FPTP system which has been suggested by the Committee, the minorities can get a fair representation in Parliament and other local government bodies."
Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam MP, General Secretary, All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC): "Any new electoral system must be linked to a solution to the ethnic problem. We do not approve electoral reform being introduced independent of a final solution to the national problem. Therefore, we are not in agreement with the Interim Report of the PSCER."
S. Subairdeen, Leader of the Ashraff Congress (AC): "We do not totally disagree with the recommendation of the PSCER and the need for reform in the electoral system.
But instead of a prototype of the German system, which is based on 50% PR and 50% FPTP, we want to suggest more percentage of representation under the PR so that the minorities will be benefited . If necessary the number of parliamentary seats should be increased for this purpose."
P. Chandrasekaran, Minister of Community Development and Leader of the Up-Country People's Front (UPF): "We are concerned about an equitable representation of our people in Parliament, PCs and other local government bodies. We have our apprehensions about the proposed system. We feel that a combined system of wards and PR would be more favourable to the majority community.
The requirement of National Identity Cards for exercising franchise rights, as recommended by the Select Committee, would be a definite handicap in the case of the plantation people, a good percentage of whom have not received their ICs over the past 20 years and it may not be possible to solve that problem within the six-month timeframe stipulated by the Committee.
That will render them ineligible for voting. Recognition of political parties on the basis of their performance in elections is yet another point that needs to be reexamined."