The two major parties in Government have apparently agreed on constitutional reforms that do not require a referendum. With presidential powers already reduced to some extent and independent commissions now functioning more or less, electoral reforms, if carried out with the larger constitutional objectives in mind, present a reform tool with significant impact.
Unfortunately, electoral reforms are planned and implemented piecemeal largely with nothing more than cut and dried solutions presented on political manifestos as the basis. Yes, as intended in those manifestoes (1) representatives have to be brought closer to people (2) intra-party competition has to be reduced if not eliminated and (3) excessive campaign spending should be discouraged removing incentives for corruption before or after elections, but, the reforms need to be better rationalized and more coherently implemented.
Unfortunately, what we see is a fixation on a mixed-member method system with piecemeal application of the same across different levels of government. The result is an aborted 20th Amendment to reform Parliamentary elections in 2015, and now a strange beast of a local government electoral method made up of several amendments to existing legislation. The latest amendment to local government elections act would give 25% of seats in a council to women through a list dedicated to women. Sounds well and good at first sight, but I would caution all concerned to be careful. Will a women’s only list relegate women to a pink pedestal with little power? Have we thought through the implications of doubling the size of local councils as a result?
It is only too easy to increase the size of local authorities to make us women feel good, but as Robert McNamara, a former Defence Secretary of US would have advised, let us first ask what we get for 8800+ representatives in a local government system which we could not get with the present 4853. To begin let us look at the projected increase in size in more detail and then discuss alternatives that will keep the size of local councils at saner levels.
CMC size will increase from 53 to 113
Taking the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) as an example, it presently has 53 members. The Gazette on ‘Demarcation of Wards of Local Authorities” published on August 15, 2015, assigns a new total of 66 members to be returned first-past-post of FPP. This large increase is due to the fact that some constituencies are to be multi-member constituencies. The PR component as per legislation would be 19 seats (or thirty percent of 66) for an interim total of 85 seats.
The women’s quota as per legislation would then be 28 (or one third of 85). The final total of Members for the CMC is then 66+19+28 or 113. The net result is more than a doubling of the 53 Members in the present Council. In addition it should be noted that this increase is largely due to ‘19+28=47’ unelected members from Party Lists.
Smallest Pradeshiya Sabha numbers too would nearly double
Women could become token representatives on pink pedestals
Alternative mixed-Member scenario
for a smaller increase
1. Zipping the PR list (or mandating that every other candidates on the PR list should be a woman) and
2. Changing the ‘may’ to a ‘shall’ in the existing legislation where it mandates that “25% of candidates may be women”.
If we make these simple changes, there will be no need for a separate women’s list and hence no need to increase the size of the local authority by an additional 25% to accommodate women. If small Parties feel they need a higher percent of PR members that would be separate matter.