The Proposed Electoral System

The key ask of the people is for a member of parliament for every electoral district that does not have a preferential voting system. Of the various recommendations tabled towards this, the system that was given the greatest attention by all parties and subsequently submitted to the cabinet by the President is as follows:

This is a hybrid of the pre-1978 First Past the Post (FPP) system and the subsequently introduced Proportional Representation (PR) system. 

Under this proposed system all parties and groups should nominate individuals at the district level for the election. According to the district proportional system, which is in force at present, each of the parties should nominate a district list three more candidates than the total amount of seats allocated under the proportionate system in each district. While this is the present norm, the only difference in the newly proposed system is that a candidate each should be declared in the district list as the candidate of the party for each polling division within the district. These polling divisions existed before 1978 amendment is no more legally accepted, however this is not a novelty since all major parties have already appointed chief organizers for each of the previously existed polling divisions and in most cases; these individuals would represent the party at the election from that specific polling division. Until now, the Commissioner of Elections has not officially accepted this fact but subsequent to the reforms, the Commissioner will do so. Furthermore, since even at present, election results are publicized at the level of each polling division, again, this is not a dramatic move away from existing norms.

According to the proposed system, there are two categories of candidates in the district list: there will be polling division-level candidates as well as district-level candidates. Since there are three additional candidates from each party at the district-level and since each party has appointed district-level organizers, recognizing district-level candidates in the district list, in addition to candidates contesting at the polling divisions-level is also nothing new. The number of seats under the PR system is greater than the actual number of polling divisions in each district.  Therefore the number of district-level candidates per party per district could be about five. As there is nothing new, the voters, candidates and the Election Commissioner's his staff are used to this setup.

The key points of the proposed system:

  • The requirement to use a preferential voting system to appoint MPs through the PR system is no longer needed.

  • The number of MPs in parliament would be increased to 255 in order to expand the representation of the people. When the original 225 seats parliament was established the number of voters in Sri Lanka was 75 lakhs but at present the number is twice that at 150 lakhs and political heavyweights and civil society leaders have collectively agreed to this.

  • As with the present system, the new system too would distribute 196 of the 255 seats to the districts via the Proportionate Representation (PR) system. Accordingly, the positive of the present system of allowing parliamentary representation for minor political parties would be preserved in the new system.

  • Since the polling divisions system will once again be officially recognized, in order to set the total number of MPs selected via the FPP and multi-member elect polling divisions to 165-170, a delimitation Commission would be established to determine the polling divisions boundaries.  Since the population composition has changed significantly since 1978, this commission would create the most appropriate boundaries keeping in mind the existing ones. In determining these new boundaries, the commission would take into consideration geophysical phenomena, ethnic composition, economic development, cultural phenomena, voter density etc. Furthermore, there will be multi-member polling divisions in addition to those based on the FPP system. This combination would therefore increase the chances for specific communities to elect one of their representatives to parliament.   

  • The number of nominees from each party should be three more than the total number of members that can be elected from each district under district proportionate system while the nominees contesting each of the polling divisions should be identified by each party beforehand.

  • As per the present practice, subsequent to the polls, the seats allocated to each district would be distributed among those parties that have obtained more than 5% of the total votes for that district.

  • There will be no preferential votes. Instead, those who have emerged victorious in each polling divisions (for multi-member electoral districts there will be between 2 and 3 victors) shall be chosen to represent that district in parliament.

  • If a party wins a lesser number of polling divisions than it has been allocated through the PR system then 50% of the remaining seats will be filled by candidates who contested but failed to win a polling division but obtained the next highest polling division level percentage of votes. The remaining 50% can be filled via that party’s district list.  

  • If a party wins a greater number of polling divisions that is has been allocated through the PR system in a particular district, then, seats will be given to each such polling division candidates in addition to the 196 FPP seats allocated in the parliament. This is called district overhanging.

  • There are two methods proposed for distributing the National List seats among the parties contested. According to the first method the remaining 59 seats (255-196) will be distributed among the parties according to the national proportionate as in the existing system via the national list. In order for a given party to be eligible for a seat or seats via the national list, that party should have obtained at least 1% of the total votes polled. This is the same as the existing system. In this respect, if a given party has a district overhanging, then the number of national list seats for that party will be accordingly reduced. If a party has obtained an overhanging more than the seats won by that party under national proportionate, then a correction need to be made and that additional number of seats will be subtracted from 59 and the remainder will be allocated proportionately to each party for the national list. Thus, in the proposed system, the number of national list seats will not be fixed but going by the recent history of elections it has been established that the total number of national seats from a given election will be between 20 and 35. Therefore, each party should nominate a minimal of 35 candidates. One major disadvantage with this method is that the leading party will have less or no national list seats in the parliament.

  • The proposed second method is to first deduct the additional seats from 59 and then distribute the rest among the parties according to the national proportion.

The most important features of the new system:

a)       That the number of seats obtained by a minor party will not be reduced.

b)      In most cases, the number of seats obtained by each party has in fact increased.

c)       Every polling division will have at least one representative in parliament.

d)      The preferential voting system is abolished.

Representative example of the proposed system at work:

We focus attention on the results of the 2001 Gampaha District election as an example of how the proposed system would work. According to the district PR system, the district has 18 seats at present. In both the current system and the proposed system, each part should nominate a group of 21 candidates. At present there are 13 electoral districts in Gampaha, however, in redrawing the boundaries of the districts, this would likely to increase to 16. According to the proposed system, the candidate who will contest each of these seats should be declared by each party. Therefore, an additional 5 candidates will contest the elections at the district level.

 The actual results of the 2001 parliamentary election Gampaha District is shown in the Table 1. 


TABLE 1: GAMPAHA DISTRICT 2001

For the purposes of this example, it shall be deemed that the Gampaha district will have 13 polling divisions since it is not possible to determine the exact polling divisions under the proposed system until the delimitation process is completed.

According to this example, 9 MPs were selected from the UNP under proportionate system, which include the bonus seat given to it as UNP has won the Gampaha district in 2001. Since the UNP won in 7 polling divisions (Biyahama, Diwulapitiya, Ja-Ela, Kelaniya, Mirigama, Negombo and Wattala) those candidates who represented the UNP in those polling divisions will have seats in parliament. In addition, there is room for two more candidates from the UNP. Of these, one would be selected by the UNP from the 5 candidates that the UNP has declared for the district. Next, the UNP remaining seat will go to the candidate who contested for the party's next highest percentage polling division, which is the Katana polling division.

Similarly, the SLFP led People's Alliance (PA) obtained seven PR seats in parliament while winning 6 polling divisions (Attanagalla, Dompe, Gampaha Katana, Mahara, and Minuwangoda). Accordingly, in addition to those PA candidates who won in each polling division, one candidate is eligible for election through the district list. The JVP, according to the 2001 results won 2 seats of which one would go to a district nominee of the party while the other would go to the JVP candidate who contested the Gampaha polling divisions. Accordingly, there would be a representative for each of the polling divisions of the Gampaha district while there would be two representatives each from Katana and Gampaha polling divisions.

However, a different result to this example could also be possible. If the election results had somehow been different and the PA had won 8 polling divisions, it would have obtained one seat more than it was allocated under PR system. In that case, this additional seat would also be given to the PA. However, this seat would be provided to them in lieu of a seat they would obtain via the national list. Then, the number of MPs appointed via the national list would change but the final national result would not have changed.

According to national proportion, the 59 seats on the national list would be distributed among the political parties which obtained more than 1% of the valid votes in the election. Then, the number of national list seats allocated to each party would be the remainder after subtracting the additional seats that party has won at the district level over the 196 FPP seats.

Table 2: Method of national list seats allocation

2010

UPFA

UNP

DNA

ITAK

1. National list seats

36

18

3

2

2. Additional seats (Overhanging)

21

0

0

1

3. Remaining national list seats (1-2)

15

18

3

1

 Let us now have a look at the overall situation in the parliament. The final result of the 2010 general elections according to the proposed system is given in diagram 1.

Diagram 1- 2010 Total Seats Allocation - Total - 255

 Accordingly the total number of seats in the parliament is 255. Out of this, 196 MPs will be selected under the District PR. As all 165 MPs who won under FPP system will go to the parliament, 138 of those FPPs will come under district PR system and the balance 22 is the overhanging. Accordingly the number of National List MPs is reduced to 37 in 2010.

The most important aspect is how the Parliamentary seats are distributed among the political parties. For that purpose the study results are shown in the Tables 3 - 6. The Table 3 shows the results of the 2010 parliamentary election. The results indicate that all parties will get more seats in the parliament when compared with the current system. The percentage of seats won by each party remains same.


 The Table 4 shows the results of the 2004 Parliamentary Election. In 2004 all parties have won a similar number or more seats in the parliament under the proposed system when compared with the existing system. 

TABLE 3: 2010 RESULTS - THE COMPARISON BETWEEN THE EXISTING AND PROPOSED SYSTEMS – FOR PRESUMED NEW ELECTORAL DISTRICTS

2010

CURRENT SYSTEM

PROPOSED SYSTEM

CHANGE

 

SEATS

PERCENTAGE

SEATS

PERCENTAGE

 

UFPA

144

64%

163

64%

19

UNP

60

27%

69

27%

9

JVP

7

3%

8

3%

1

TNA

14

6%

15

6%

1

TOTAL

225

100%

255

100%

30

Majority of the leading party

32

36

 

 TABLE 5: 2001 RESULTS - THE COMPARISON BETWEEN THE EXISTING AND PROPOSED SYSTEMS – FOR PRESUMED NEW ELECTORAL DISTRICTS

2001

Current Method

New Method

Change

 

Seats

%

Seats

%

 

UPFA

77

34%

89

35%

12

UNP

109

48%

124

49%

15

DNA/JVP

16

7%

18

7%

2

ITAK/ TULF

15

7%

16

6%

1

SLMC/ NUA

5

2%

5

2%

0

EPDP

2

1%

2

1%

0

DPLF

1

0%

1

0%

0

Total

225

100%

255

100%

30

Majority of the Leading Party

-4

 

-4

   

 

TABLE 5: 2000 RESULTS - THE COMPARISON BETWEEN THE EXISTING AND PROPOSED SYSTEMS – FOR PRESUMED NEW ELECTORAL DISTRICTS

 2000

Current Method

New Method

 

Seats

%

Seats

Seats

%

UPFA

107

48%

122

48%

15

UNP

89

40%

102

40%

13

DNA/JVP

10

4%

12

5%

2

ITAK/ TULF

5

2%

5

2%

0

SLMC/ NUA

4

2%

4

2%

0

JHU

1

0%

1

2%

0

EPDP

4

2%

4

1%

0

TELO

3

1%

3

0%

0

ACTC

1

0%

1

0%

0

IND

1

0%

1

0%

0

Total

225

100%

255

100%

30

Majority of the leading party

-6

 

-6

   

 

- Asoka Abeygunawardana -

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