UNP for electoral reforms sans any burden on public

Maithri Gunaratne strikes discordant note,
tells UNP not to sabotage the process


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Youth Affairs Minister Niroshan Perera yesterday said that the UNP had taken cognisance of the urgent need for electoral reforms, though it strongly opposed proposal to increase the number of members to facilitate the process.

 "The UNP has always recognised the need for electoral changes. Progressive electorate knows the party stand as well as its flexibility in this regard," Minister Perera said. The people’s expectation wasn’t for a further expanded parliament; the UNPer said, adding that a bigger parliament would be an added burden on taxpayers.

Youth Affairs Minister strongly disputed accusation that the UNP hadn’t been interested in electoral reforms envisaged in 20 Amendment to the Constitution though it pushed for 19 Amendment meant to curtail executive powers of the president. "In the run-up to the presidential election, we assured the electorate of our resolve to bring in constitutional as well as electoral reforms. Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are committed to implementation of both. Unfortunately, the bankrupt Opposition is working overtime to undermine the new administration."

 Responding to a query, Minister Perera alleged that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had never made a move to bring in electoral reforms, though he was in power since Nov 2005.  His efforts had been always aimed at further consolidating his authoritarian regime."

 The minister alleged that a section of the Opposition had been pushing for a no-faith motion against Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe in a bid to sabotage the proposed electoral reforms. Pointing out that Premier Wickremesinghe’s proposals had been endorsed at a special cabinet meeting on June 8 chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena, Minister Perera emphasized that the SLFP’s call for an increase in the number of MPs from the present 225 to 255 was unfair.

 Wickremesinghe has proposed a mixed system consisting of 125 members elected on the first-past-the-post and 75 on the basis of proportional representation and 25 on the National List. However, the SLFP as well as minority political parties are pushing for a larger parliament in accordance with overall electoral reforms.

 The forthcoming general election would give the Opposition an opportunity to test the pulse of the electorate. The minister alleged that those who had been engaged in bring-back-Mahinda campaign were trying to block Premier Wickremesinghe’s electoral reforms. A recent statement attributed to the Chief Prelate of the Asgiriya Chapter reflected the futility in pursuing a no-faith motion in the midst of far reaching constitutional reforms meant to change the political culture, Minister Perera said.

 He said parliament shouldn’t be the place for what he called manipulative politics. Pointing out that the present government had received a mandate for 100-day rule; the Minister said that immediate dissolution should pave the way for early general election.

 The UNP remained confident of forming a government, though the Rajapaksa camp was pursuing a strategy inimical to political stability, he charged.

 Meanwhile, Southern Provincial Councillor Maithri Gunaratne (UNP) said that the UNP should seriously consider its insistence that 20 Amendment shouldn’t result in the number of members of parliament going up. Having thanked the UNP for pledging its support for 20 Amendment, attorney-at-law Gunaratne said that the UNP should examine its proposal to elect 125 members through first-past-the-post system while retaining 225-member parliament.

 The maverick UNPer alleged that the proposal would place the UNP, minority political parties representing the Northern and Eastern electoral districts as well as those representing ‘difficult’ districts at a disadvantage. Gunaratne urged Premier Wickremesinghe to take tangible measures to address concerns raised by smaller political parties as well as minority political parties if he was determined to stick to his proposal.

 The outspoken UNPer requested the UNP not to sabotage the electoral reforms by engaging in disruptive policies. The UNP Southern Provincial Council member alleged that a section of the UNP was of the view that the process of delimitation required by the restriction of the elected members to 125 would cause an inordinate delay and undermined the entire process.

 Gunaratne warned that the UNP would face a catastrophe situation unless it adopted a flexible position as regards the 20 Amendment, especially the composition of the next parliament. The UNP rebel asserted that the move to retain the same number of members as in the current parliament would be a serious mistake on the part of the leadership.

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