The system or the politician at fault?
The manape (preferential votes) has reduced the entire system of voting to a point of absurdity. We have the hilarious situation of cabinet minister and PA General Secretary, Mr. D. M. Jayaratne making bitter complaints to President Kumaratunga and the Commissioner of Elections, Mr. Dayananda Dissanayake against one of his own cabinet colleagues, where he has alleged many foul practices being committed in the Kandy district. He has alleged that plans are afoot to enter polling booths the night before the election and stuff ballot boxes on the day of the elections with ballot papers marked for one candidate. Six underworld gangs in masks were scaring people, collecting poll cards while state corporation vehicles were being used for these corrupt practices, he has alleged. The police were awaiting instructions of the president, he has said.
This is not altogether a new political phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Violence on such a scale was first witnessed in the mid-seventies during the by-election to the Dedigama electorate following the death of Mr. Dudley Senanayake. The UNP having weathered such political thuggery, on assuming power in 1977, used political violence even on a bigger scale in the referendum that was held in the mid eighties and the elections that followed. What Mr. Jayaratne is complaining about happened during the previous elections in the Kandy and Nuwara Eliya Districts and the public is well aware of these ugly incidents.
Mr. Jayaratne has pointed out to President Kumaratunga that she had made statements over the radio that she would not hesitate take drastic action against those found guilty of such acts by even depriving them of their ministerial portfolios. President Kumaratunga is placed in an embarrassing and difficult position by her own cabinet ministers but she got to take immediate action to remedy the situation not only in Kandy but elsewhere as well. From Mr. Jayaratnes letter to President Kumaratunga it is apparent that the police are not taking any action despite complaints made by Mr. Jayaratne himself.
President Kumaratunga, in an interview given to a weekend paper, has blamed the preferential system of voting and said that it was destroying democracy. There is in-fighting within all political parties, she has said and added that it was destroying democracy. It was a system introduced by former president, J. R. Jayewardene and Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe with a view to staying in power forever, she had observed.
Whatever the motives for introducing this system of voting may be, it did result in fairer expression of public opinion than under the previous first-past-the-post system. There have been instances such as in 1956 where the UNP, having polled more votes than the SLFP, was reduced to a few seats in parliament. The preferential system prevented landslide victories that gave more than two-third majorities in parliament such as in 1970 and 1977. During the dark days of the SLFP, proportional system of voting did ensure the election of the partys candidates in large numbers to offer stiff resistance to the UNP in parliament. At the last general election the UNP would have been reduced to a mere seat or two if the first-past-the-post system was in play.
When the proportional representation was introduced, the battle for the Manape was not foreseen. The draft constitution proposes a modified form of proportional representation but it can be judged only when put into practice.
President Kumaratungas complaint that this system puts the constitution into a strait-jacket preventing constitutional amendments being moved is correct. President Jayewardene having won the 1977 election under the first-past-the-post system introduced the proportional system that prevents any party from securing a two-third majority to amend the constitution.
But can changes in constitutions alone prevent the corruption and violence that we are witnessing? It is said that nothing is fool-proof with bloody fools. Whatever constitution that may be adopted its success will depend on the quality of people that are elected to parliament. If even those from reputed families and good education resort to goons to achieve their political objectives, no constitution or system of voting will ensure democratic freedom of the people.
We have stated in our previous editorial comments that one reason for the present state of affairs is because we do not have inner party democracy. In all our political parties, candidates are not chosen by party members through elections but on the whims and fancies of party leaders. Some political parties have not even held their annual party convention for years. The party leader is virtually a dictator of the party. The leader chooses the candidates and during elections the party list is a fait accompli of the party leader. This preferential system of voting exposes the political strength of party candidates within an electorate. The less popular candidates resort to force and corrupt practices but the popular candidates need not worry and will come on top of the party list through fair means.
The best constitution is said to be the British Constitution which is not a written constitution but works on traditions and conventions. Such constitutions can only work if politicians are of a high calibre.
Thus, its not really the system at fault but the quality of the politicians elected to parliament.
However, this is not the time for constitutional niceties. President Kumaratunga got to act fast if the situation is to be retrieved.
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