At a time when all Sri Lankan are locked down in their homes geared to Face Everything And Rise (FEAR) over COVID-19; all would have time in spare to think of other issues, such as the 2020 General Election due this year. It would be productive to give some thoughts on such issues and this post on the selection of parliamentarians through the National List system introduced in 1988, that has always been misused by the leaders of all front-line political parties, perhaps people will take special note of this issue in mind.
The National List comprise 29 members who will enter parliament without having to contest elections, as per the 14th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in 1988 saw the expansion of the number of Members of Parliament from 196 to 225, whereby the elected parties are given a proportion of said 29 seats according to the number of votes they have polled in popular election. It was introduced primarily to bring in experts and professionals from various fields, whose knowledge and skills would be useful in parliament . The underlying assumption being that such individuals would not have the time, political know-how, or the requisite popular appeal to successfully contest and win an election. Further, it could also be used to increase female representation to improve the gender balance; as they form more than half the population in the country are still grossly under represented in parliament .
True to expectations there were national list members who lived up to expectations, as individuals would probably not take the trouble to fund and run their own campaigns, especially because their chances at election would be slim. But certainly, it was not meant to be a back door through which unpopular – or insecure – politicians might enter parliament without having to contest elections, nor was it meant to be a safety net for defeated politicians to enter the legislature. Bitter Truth is after the system to elect members to the legislature was introduced, in particular under the republican constitution the parliament got filled with less educated ‘yes’ members, at the expense of quality. So it made perfect sense and the people were made to believe that these members would make significant contributions to debate in parliament.
A close look at the National List for the next General Election due this year presented by the front line political parties, they have retained the backdoor practice of bringing in many former parliamentarians. Further, a sub Section of the same 14th amendment has effectively allowed parties to ignore their declared list and to nominate anyone else, subject to the normal limitations. Unfortunately, this nullify the spirit of the mechanisms to ensure that at least little over 10% of the parliament’s composition is protected by this national list for educated professionals and upstanding members of the public.
Thus appointing defeated candidates through the national list undermines the voter’s franchise. Above all, a system by which parties have such discretion in appointments seems to do the voter greater injustice than one in which national lists are closed, to the detriment of a few deserving politicians who may come up short at the polls. The new government has talked of a new constitution, and if such a process does materialize, protecting the spirit of the national list should be high on our priorities.