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Monday, May 20, 2024

Major changes in election laws

By Sandun A. Jayasekera

Changes in legislations are on the cards whereby the Elections Commission would be vested with the authority to fix dates for elections and make re-poll compulsory in the event of an annulment, sources said.

These are the major proposals among others made to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms, (Committee) chaired by Minister Dinesh Gunawardana.

The all-important ‘Local Government (Special Provisions) Bill to amend the Municipal Councils and Urban Councils Ordinance and the Pradeshiya Sabha Act of 1987 will be taken up for debate and to be passed tomorrow in Parliament. The new Bill is a result of the recommendations made by the ‘Interim Report’ by the Committee to Parliament.

Minister Gunawardana told Daily Mirror that the government would take steps to implement recommendations of the Committee step by step and some recommendations such as the freezing of the number of members in Parliament to current 225 and making the national ID card compulsory for voting that have served good for the conduct of free and fair elections and democracy in the country.     

Among other proposals of the Interim Report the Committee appointed by the Speaker to recommend reforms to the current system of Parliamentary, Provincial Councils and Local Authority elections include a mixed system, a hybrid of the first past the post and the proportional representation system for Parliamentary elections.

Ward system to be re-introduced for Local Government elections subject to the re-demarcation of electoral boundaries by a fresh delimitation and a mixed system for Provincial Council elections.

Amendments be introduced to the election laws on recognition of political parties and to the law relating to the deposits.

The Committee also recommends to elect under the new electoral system, 140 MPs from 140 constituencies under First Past the Post (FPP) system, 70 from the District Proportional System (DPR)   based on the votes polled by other candidates who contested but did not qualify under the FPP system.

 Five seats out of a total of 15 from the national list will be allocated to the party securing the highest number of valid votes at the election (bonus seats).

Out of the balance 10 seats, 3 seats to be reserved for unrepresented minor parties who have polled a national vote exceeding the natural cut-off point but have not qualified for a seat under the FPP and/or ‘district proportional representation system’.

When a vacancy occurs in a parliamentary constituency, it should be filled holding a by-election. Nevertheless the results of such by-election should not affect the DPR seats of the district
Any vacancy occurring in the DPR seats should be filled by electing a person from the respective political party who has polled the next highest percentage of votes within his constituency. A vacancy in the national list allocation could be filled by another candidate from the list, being nominated by the Secretary of the respective party. The proposed model meets the goals of providing stability and governability to Parliament while ensuring fair representation of minority parties and communities, the Committee says.

For Provincial Councils, the Committee recommends the replacement of the current system with a mixed system on a 2:1 ratio which is line with the proposed Parliamentary elections system.

On Local Governments, the Committee recommends that the present boundaries of the local government authorities should be re-demarcated to form an electoral unit, which is territorially and demographically smaller than the present unit, to increase the participation of the community and community organizations and to facilitate the management and diversification of development and economic needs of the area and ensure a democratic representation of minorities and communities.

Accordingly, the Committee recommends increasing the number of local government institutions coming within a divisional secretariat area. The Committee also decided to recommend that the Chairman and Vice Chairman of local bodies be elected by the local bodies themselves after an election.

The FPP system should be re-introduced for the Local Government elections with the possibility of electing 30% of representatives under the proportional representation system to ensure the representation of minority communities or unrepresented parties.

The “Ward Committees” at local government level consisting of representatives of community based organizations and officers will involve in the development activities of the area. These Committees can be chaired by the ward member. It is anticipated that this process would facilitate the community participation in decision making at ward level.

Steps would be taken to initiate as early as possible for the constitution of a Delimitation Commission to implement the proposed system of elections and Article 95 to 99 of the Constitution be amended suitably to re constitute a Delimitation CommissionThe Committee also recommends that political parties should include provisions in their policies to ensure nomination of women candidates in order to guarantee better representation of women in Parliament, Provincial Councils and Local Government bodies and legal provision be formulated to make it mandatory that every third candidate nominated by a party secretary from the national list shall be a woman candidate.

The electronic voting system should be introduced on a priority basis to reduce the heavy expenditure incurred presently for manpower during elections, lack of efficiency in counting and delays in releasing elections results.

Postal voting be replaced by the ‘advance voting system’ providing voting facilities for postal voters at centers specially installed and managed by the officers appointed by the Commissioner of Elections/Returning Officers, in the presence of agents of the contesting political parties and independent groups well in advance of the date of the poll.

Amendments be made in the election laws to rescind registration and recognition to political parties as the case may be, on the basis of specific criteria that pertain to the overall concept of voter acceptance.

The Committee chaired by Minister Gunawardana comprised 32 members representing all political parties in Parliament.


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