Conflicting proposals on 20A, dissolution likely this month with polls in July
The upcoming parliamentary elections will be held under the existing proportional representation system even if Parliament approves the 20th Amendment on electoral reforms. However, such approval will hinge on agreement on the reforms being reached by different political parties. In the event such agreement is not possible, President Sirisena has declared that Parliament would be dissolved possibly by late next week. He expects to hold elections by July.
His position on the matter, briefed to political parties supporting him, and the Government was re-iterated yesterday. It came when President Sirisena met a Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) delegation headed by its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the Sunday Times that party leaders would meet next week to discuss electoral reform proposals. They would discuss with President Sirisena the proposals that had emerged so far in a bid to reach finality, he said.
JVP leader Dissanayake told the Sunday Times, “President Sirisena told us that if it is not possible for the political parties to reach common agreement on electoral reforms, he would dissolve Parliament and call general elections.” The President, he added, also told the JVP that he would brief the Cabinet of Ministers on this matter on Wednesday and take a final decision thereafter.
Unlike the passage of 19A, electoral reforms have become a complex and contentious issue with, small and minority parties raising objections.
A Government source said even if general agreement was reached, it would take a longer period of time before the reforms could be implemented. This is in view of the delimitation of constituencies, educating officials and voters.
Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya has said that at least a year’s time was necessary. This is not only to carry out delimitation work but also to permit both officials and voters to learn about the new system — a blend of the first-past-the-post (FPP) and the proportional representation systems.
Yet, the formulation of an electoral reforms package is becoming more protracted than the somewhat convoluted process to reach accord and the subsequent passage in Parliament of 19A. It was passed only after amendments sought by Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Parliamentarians were agreed upon.
President Sirisena has proposed, on behalf of the SLFP, that under the reforms the new Parliament should have 255 seats to broaden representation. He has proposed that the country be divided into 20-25 electoral districts with the boundaries being worked out by a delimitation commission. Such districts should be further divided into polling divisions, not less than three and not more than 16.