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Full Text of the 20A: Cabinet to decide on May 13

Read the full text as  a PDF:Draft 20th A for electoral reform

The Cabinet will take up the 20th Amendment to the Constitution with proposals for a new electoral system when it meets again on May 13, officials said.
The amendment, which has now been compiled by the Legal Draftsman’s Department, was last taken up in the Cabinet on Wednesday. President Maithripala Sirisena presented it to ministers, advised them to study it carefully, and to arrive at a consensus with all political parties before the next meeting.

The latest draft — the Sunday Times is in receipt of a copy in the English language — envisages a 255-seat Parliament, mainly to reflect a rise in population. There will be no preferential or “manaapa” system of voting. Each polling division will have at least one representative in Parliament.

According to the proposed reforms, 196 members will be elected on a first-past-the-post system and a district-based proportional representation (PR) system. This will allow continued parliamentary representation for minor political parties, says Asoka Abeygunawardana, an energy sector professional who, along with other academics and experts, helped shaped the proposals.

The remaining 59 members will be from the National List. The first-past-the-post (FPP) will also come into play with all electorate level winners entering Parliament. There will be some multi-member polling divisions returning two or three victors.

Mr. Abeygunawardana says the 20th Amendment contains some elements of the New Zealand electoral system. The seats allocated to each district will be distributed among parties that have obtained more than five percent of the total votes for that district. This is no different to the existing practice.

There is provision for some candidates who contest, fail to win, but obtain the next highest percentage of votes at polling division level to enter Parliament.
For a party to be eligible for a seat or seats from the National List, that party should obtain at least one percent of the total votes polled. This is the same as the prevailing system. It is proposed, however, that the number of National List seats will not be fixed at 29 as at present.

Going by recent history, however, the total number of National List seats from a given electorate will be between 20 and 35, Mr Abeygunawardana observes. This means each party will have to nominate a minimum of 35 candidates for National List seats.

When the Cabinet met on April 22, there were three submissions under consideration. It was decided to consult with all political parties and to finalise a draft. On April 25, following a meeting at Temple Trees, one of these submissions was prioritised and sent to the Legal Draftsman. It is this document that is now being discussed,

A delimitation commission will decide on the number of electorates but the preference is for 160, says Sujata Gamage, an expert who was involved in deliberations. “There are 160 historical electorates,” she pointed out. If multi-member electorates were introduced, minor parties will have no issues with the proposed system, she adds. In the past, when elections were held under the FPP system, Nuwara Eliya, Colombo Central, Beruwala, Akurana, Pottuvil and Batticaloa were multi-member electorates.

Meanwhile, Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya says he is receiving more proposals for electoral reforms. “I am getting a lot of proposals from ordinary people including trade unionists,” he says. “The reforms are totally in the legislature’s hand.”

By Namini Wijedasa / Sunday Times


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