Electoral Reform Efforts

The 1978 Constitution introduced an open-list district-based proportional system for parliamentary elections. In June 2015, President Sirisena presented before the Cabinet a draft amendment aiming to replace the current proportional system by a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, like those used in Germany or New Zealand. This bill was inspired by Sirisena’s election manifesto, which called for the re-introduction of smaller single member constituencies, to improve accountability of elected officials to their voters, while preserving proportional representation in Parliament. The proposed amendment was however met with strong criticism from small parties, including the Tamil National Alliance, Tamil Progressive Alliance and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, and election observers because of two fundamental flaws.

First, the percentage of seats reserved for majority seats was very high, about two thirds, while it is usually of 50 percent in MMP systems. To address this concern, representatives from small parties have met with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the draft was revised to create more proportional representation seats and elect a 237-seat Parliament instead of today’s and the original draft’s 225. Although this was recognized as a “somewhat satisfactory solution”, small parties still refuse to endorse the amendment unless voters are granted two ballots during the election, one for majority representation and one for proportional representation, as is the case usually with MMP systems. So far, the government has not moved from its initial position of accepting only a single ballot, which observers think would give an unfair advantage to bigger parties. Until now, negotiations about electoral system reforms are in a deadlock and no agreement has been reached on what would become the 20th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. Such electoral reform would constitute for ethnic minorities and their political parties a sign of good will from the government and a step towards a more level political playing field in the country.

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