Reduction in Parliamentary Seats in Jaffna — Arbitrary or Not?

Rohana Hettiarachchi, Executive Director, PAFFREL

As in previous years, the process of revision of the voters register for the year 2010 has now been completed. As a result of this revision the number of Members of Parliament representing Jaffna has been reduced from nine members to six and this reduced number of three had been added one each to Ratnapura, Badulla and Kurunegala Districts. The Gazette notification which was released soon after the completion of the Jaffna District Local Government Elections has become a hot topic among political parties, media and the general public.

According to the 1978 Constitution of the Government, the Delimitation Commission which is appointed by the President is empowered to divide and separate all the Districts of Sri Lanka into not more than 24 and not less than 20 electoral Districts. Consequently the 25 administrative districts of Sri Lanka were divided into 22 electoral districts. The administrative districts of Vauniya, Mullativu and Mannar were brought under the Vanni District. The Jaffna and Kilinochchi administrative districts were brought under the Jaffna electoral district.

As per the responsibility of this Commission, in addition to the number of representatives that were to be elected based on the number of voters registered in the Districts, 36 elected members positions had to be fairly distributed with four representatives to each Province. In the Northern Province, three of the four representatives were assigned to the Vanni District that comprised three administrative Districts and one representative was assigned to the Jaffna District.

Accordingly the distribution of the 225 Members to Parliament stood as follows.

36 Representatives to the nine provinces with four for each Province.

160 representatives elected based on the ratio of registered voters.

29 representatives from the National List

Initially the total electors as per the registers of electors of all the electoral districts will be divided by 160 in the distribution of 160 seat among the respective electoral districts on a population basis. The number so obtained is accepted as the qualifying number.

The total number of electors registered during the year concerned = Qualifying number 160

Subsequently the total number of electors in each district is divided by the qualifying number to get the number of members representing the District

The total number of electors in each district = the number of members representing District

The qualifying number

In the event of the number160 not being reached, any electoral division which had not received a single representative and taking into consideration the number of electors in such electoral divisions and those electoral districts which have the highest such balance number of such electors , the balance representatives should be distributed based on the highest balances. In the event an equal balance is observed among electoral districts a member could be assigned by lot.

Hence the number of seats for any electoral district is determined by the delimitation Commission set up according to the 1978 Constitution. Hence the number of representatives for the respective electoral district is based on the number of electors registered during the period concerned.

Every year, no sooner the revision to the electoral register is completed, the Commissioner of Elections will announce the number of representatives to each electoral District based on the criteria set above. The total number of representatives based on the above process cannot be altered by the Commissioner of Elections or by any other authority. It has been clearly laid down by the 1978 Constitution.

An examination of the distribution of district representatives during the last 30 years indicate that the number of representative have been changed only in a very small number of Districts. (Please refer Table number 01)

For instance under the present context Jaffna District had 11 members in 1981and during the period 1989-1994 it was represented by 10 members and during the period 1995-1997 there were nine members. Subsequently in 1998 there were 10 and it has been recorded that during the period 1990-2009 there were nine members. What is therefore evident is that the number of representatives could be varied based on the number of electors.

In 1981 Colombo District had 21 members and it had got reduced to 19 by 2010 which means a reduction of two members.

The following Table gives a clear picture of the changes that had taken place during the last 30 years.

Number of members to parliament are determine as per voter registration of 2008

Voters Register used for Parliamentary Elections from 1989 to date

Year and date the Election was held

Voters register used to determine the number of parliamentarians

Tables 1 and 3 indicate how the annual changes had a bearing in the number of representatives that represented the various Districts. This could be explained through a few examples. It was the 1987 electoral register that was used at the 1989 Parliamentary Elections. Accordingly Colombo District got 20 representatives. Subsequently in 1988, 1989 and1990 there were 21 representatives and in 1991 once more it was changed to 20 members. However there was no manipulation. Subsequently at the 1994 Parliamentary Elections the 1993 electoral register was used and 21 members were selected. However in 2000 this number changed to 20 and according to the 2009 and 2010 electoral register it was reduced to 19. The reason for this change was the use of the 2008 electoral register. In 2008 the Colombo District had 20 members. What is indicative from this is that the number of members has changed with the electoral register used but it will not always have an effect.

In Jaffna the number of members in 1981 was 11 but in 1993 it was 10. Once again in 1995, 1996, 1997 there were nine while it changed to 10 in 1998. But in 1999 it was reduced to nine. At the 2000 Elections the 1999 electoral register was used and hence it got reduced to nine. Since then the number of members stood at nine but in 2010 it was reduced to six. However its direct effect would be felt only at the next Parliamentary elections. Under normal circumstances the next Parliamentary Elections will be held in April 2016 and the 2014 electoral register will be used. If the number of registered voters in the Jaffna electoral district should increase at that time due to resettlement or for any other reason, the number parliamentary seats for Jaffna electoral district can increase once again.

On the other hand, according to the Sri Lanka Constitution the President has the power to dissolve Parliament after one year of Election. Further defeat of the annual budget or reduction of the majority in Parliament could lead to a Parliamentary Election. Under such circumstances this reduction would definitely have a practical bearing on the electoral representation of Jaffna district.

What is clear from this is that depending on the change in the number of registered voters

the change in the number of Members could be observed not only in the Jaffna District but in all other Districts in the country. Neither the Commissioner of Elections nor any other authority can change this except through a constitutional change. Until such time what is important is that in the preparation of an accurate Electoral Register the Commissioner of Elections should receive the genuine cooperation of the Grama Niladaris, political parties, civic groups and those eligible to vote in the country. In particular the political parties ought to mobilize their party cadres to ensure that registration of all eligible voters takes place so that the electoral register for 2011 will better reflect the actual number of voters.


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