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Colombo plans radical electoral reforms

B. Muralidhar Reddy

COLOMBO: The Rajapaksa government is planning major changes to the proportional representation system in elected bodies, beginning with local government bodies.

Under the provisions of the proposed legislation, known as the Local Government Electoral Reforms Bill, 30 per cent of members in local bodies will be elected under the proportional representation system and the rest under the first-past-the-post system.

The 1978 Constitution introduced the system of proportional representation, a radical departure from the previous first-past-the-post electoral system and electoral districts. Under the previous system, the candidate obtaining the highest number of votes in a constituency was declared elected.

The Tamil National Party (TNA), which won majority of parliamentary seats in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, has opposed the move saying it will adversely impact the interests of minorities.

Under the Constitution, electoral reforms have to be ratified by the provincial councils. Since the coalition headed by Mr. Rajapaksa has majority in all the eight existing provincial councils and a near two-thirds majority in Parliament, passage of the bill is assured. On Tuesday, the bill was passed in the North Western, Eastern and Southern Provincial Councils amid allegations of discrepancies in the Sinhala and Tamil versions of the bill.

“We will pass the bill even though we do not support the bill as we have to work with the Central government in the future,” said Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivaneesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillyan.

TNA spokesman Suresh Premachandran said: “According to the provisions of the Bill, only 30 percent of members are elected under the proportional representation system and the rest under the first past-the-post system. This will deny opportunities for the minority communities to get their members elected. Almost all TNA MPs voiced against the bill now pending approval by Parliament.”

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