‘Electoral system reform to be based on German model’
– Amunugama

‘A resounding victory for the UPFA with a two-thirds majority in Parliament would clear the decks for economic growth and constitutional reform, with reforms to the electoral system, based on the German model, featuring prominently under the latter head’, Public Administration and Home Affairs and Deputy Minister of Finance Dr. Sarath Amunugama said.

Outlining the proposed electoral reforms in an interview with this newspaper, the Minister said: ‘For a long time several parties have been having a new look at the JRJ constitution. There was a Parliamentary Select Committee under Minister Dinesh Gunawardene which has come out with certain proposals. It is a mixed system; somewhat like the German system of representation. There will be electorates and on the basis of the performance in these electorates, there will be a district list and on the national performance there will be a national list. So, it will be a more mixed type of representation and this will eliminate the preferential vote system which is causing a lot of difficulties whenever elections are called’.

He said that changes and modifications to the Executive presidency are also to be examined along with the changes to the electoral system, but pointed out that at the moment it is the parliamentary poll which is being focused on. ‘Many of these things are predicated on the performance at the parliamentary poll. Any constitutional change presupposes a two-third majority. So, we have to look to getting a two-third majority as a prelude to any type of constitutional reform, the Minister explained.

‘Unless the government gets a strong mandate of that kind, parliamentary business becomes very difficult. Under the JRJ constitution all the attention was on the Executive President. Parliament was only a supporting sub system. So, unless you have a strong majority in Parliament, it is very difficult for the President to think of change. Because the tradition has been to undermine the government, by pulling out Members from the government side or to weaken the Opposition by pulling out Members from the Opposition side. So, this cross-over matter has become a fundamental by-product of the JRJ constitution. Basically, it is much better for the people to speak and give a direct mandate to the winning side, he said.

Excerpts of interview:

Q: Will the government decide to find a political solution to the ethnic issue, once and for all?

A: Yes, his Excellency the President clearly stated that he wants a political solution to this problem. After all, that is the common sense view. Because anyone in this country will know that there must be some political accommodation with not only the Tamils but other minorities. The President appointed an all party committee to go into that and those findings are there. So, the next step would be to find a political solution which is fair by all communities. And only a strong leader like the President who has the absolute confidence of the majority can take those steps which are necessary.

A person like Ranil Wickremesinghe would never have been able to get that sort of backing in the country for any compromise. That is why every time he tries to solve the problem there is a cry of betrayal. Because he never concentrates on the wants of the majority community. It is always better to win the confidence of the majority community and get some legitimacy, so that you can deal very correctly and humanely with the other communities in this country. That is not the approach of Ranil. He wants to divide the Sinhala people and come to power with the assistance of the minorities. That is something that will never be accepted in Sri Lanka. And he will never have the credibility and legitimacy to effect a permanent solution.

Q: A political solution would involve some form of power devolution. Are you confident that you could convince the majority community that a solution of this kind needs to be worked out?

A: Yes, we are already having the 13th amendment in our constitution, which sets-up Provincial Councils, which identifies the powers that need to be devolved. Earlier, there was a very big problem on which was to be the unit of devolution. Was it to be the North, the East or a joint North-East? There was a lot of debate on that. But now, fortunately, that matter has been settled by his Excellency. After the elimination of the LTTE, it is now very clear that there will be two entities: a Provincial Council of the North and a Provincial Council of the East, just as much as there is a PC for the Central Province and one for the Sabaragamuwa Province. There are ethnic affinities as well as differences.

One of the great things of the President is that he managed to solve the problem of the East, while retaining the confidence of the Sinhalese, the Muslims and the Tamils, who are co-operating in the Eastern PC. That is an unimaginable feat. A few years ago the people thought there would not be a solution to the ethnic diversity of the East. So since the problem about the unit of devolution is solved, it is not difficult to solve the problem of the powers to be devolved.

Many of the powers have already been devolved. What remains to be resolved is whether powers, such as Police and land powers, should be devolved. But these have not been devolved on the so-called Southern areas as well. The Chief Minister does not control these subjects anywhere in the country. So, in my own mind, it is far too premature, being a small country, to think of devolving Police powers on the provinces, irrespective of whether they are Sinhala, Muslim or Tamil provinces. This is not a linguistic or ethnic issue but simply a matter of the Police powers not being devolved at the present moment in the best interests of the country. You got to have a centralized police.

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