Much of the time and energy of most Honourable Members of Parliament these days has been directed to their blatant devotion to their self-preservation for the next six years. It’s 20A (20th Amendment to the Constitution); 20A; 20A all the way around the length and breadth of the country. To hell with the much-needed Right [...]


Enough of 225 is enough


Much of the time and energy of most Honourable Members of Parliament these days has been directed to their blatant devotion to their self-preservation for the next six years.

It’s 20A (20th Amendment to the Constitution); 20A; 20A all the way around the length and breadth of the country. To hell with the much-needed Right to Information Law, which was promised within a hundred days of January 8, to festering garbage disposal issues as referred to in this space last week, or the vigorous pursuit of good governance. They are all in unison arguing over what kind of Parliament we should have in the future through the electoral reforms envisaged in 20A.

Without exception, the arguments have revolved around self-preservation — whether proportional representation is good, bad or ugly, how much of the old first-past-the-post elections must be restored and how the next set of MPs must be elected and selected. The priority is firstly, to ensure their own re-entry into this august assembly, and next, their party’s prospects of achieving targets.

In the process has emerged the vexed issue of the number of seats the next Parliament should have. The UNP seems to have accurately gauged public opinion (it sometimes does) that the present 225 number is the giddy limit. Others have asked for numbers going up to 255 while the President has compromised with the number 237 which has now been accepted and has been gazetted as part of 20A.

However, the Leader of the Opposition from the SLFP is on record this week as saying that they will ask for 255 at the committee stage of the 20A debate, and going by the experience of 19A, many things happen at this stage of the debate. The minority parties want greater representation and so do women’s organisations for their constituencies.

This newspaper has been regularly publishing some interesting facts from the research organisation ‘’ which may have gone unnoticed and even if otherwise, deserve repeating. For instance, there are 21 ethnic minority MPs in Parliament – other than those from the mainstream parties, viz., the UNP, SLFP and JVP. Their contribution is a meagre 8.6% of the productive time of Parliament. There are 13 women (5.8% of Parliament) and their contribution is a paltry 3% of the productive time of Parliament.

Everyone wants greater representation, but for what? There’s a National List MP who has never spoken in Parliament in all her five years there. The National List, mind you, is meant to infuse some special expertise into the Legislature – for instance, senior lawyers who assist in law-making. It is also an expansion of the Nominated MPs from the Parliaments of yesteryear to represent unrepresented groups or communities – like, for instance, the Burgher. Nowadays, a former President complains that a person who plucked coconuts in his garden is criticising him; but as party leader he made that ‘coconut plucker’ a National List MP and a Cabinet Minister. The entire concept was perverted by political leaders, the exceptions being few and far between.

In bigger countries — if one takes Australia as an example, with almost the same population as Sri Lanka (22 million), but with a land mass so many times greater, its Federal Parliament has only 150 MPs. We want 255. There are 427 Provincial Council members and 4,486 local council members in Sri Lanka — all paid by the public purse — totalling 5,138 elected representatives in Sri Lanka, i.e. a ratio of 1 politician per 4,300 citizens. On the other hand, Sri Lanka has just 18 cardio-thoracic surgeons (1:1.2 million citizens) to Australia’s 276 (1:80,000) and a 50-fold in training. Have we got our priorities right?

India, with a population of 1.2 billion has only 545 MPs in its Lower House. Not only is our ratio of elected representatives to citizens high, but research shows that there is no corresponding co-relationship between more and more MPs to represent minority communities or so-called disadvantaged groups when the contributions they make to the legislative work of the country is negligible. What it points to is the calibre of those put forward by respective political parties; the quality not the quantity.

The emergence of communal parties — the Tamil parties since Independence, the Muslim parties since the 1990s, and the Sinhala-Buddhist parties with the turn of the century culminating in members of the clergy also entering Parliament, has unfortunately reversed the ideal of a Sri Lankan identity that ought to have been more vigorously fostered in the immediate afterglow of Independence in 1948. It was not to be. The result is that minority parties are constantly complaining, asking for greater representation in Parliament so that they can use their ‘strength’ as a bargaining tool in the event of a close fight between the mainstream parties, and become the ‘kingmakers’ in deciding governments, while landing themselves plum ministries. The statitstics show what their real contribution is in Parliament, or the lack of it, as the voice of their people.

With perks and privileges, including a pension, membership in Parliament is much sought after and attractive to many, not only those who want to serve their country, but serve themselves. By their own admission, this Parliament is infested with drug peddlers and ethanol dealers, thugs, crooks and rascals. This is what their own members say about themselves. Many of them do not even have the basic educational qualifications. But look at them now, sporting gold wristwatches and gold chains and all the perceived trappings of affluence and self-importance. How did they get in? First, their political leaders gave them nomination; then the people voted for them. The ‘system’ prevailing enables this process.

Parliaments all over the world have traced a decline in the calibre of elected representatives. 20A, no doubt, is an attempt to rectify the ills of the prevailing system. But it won’t work unless the party leaders, on whom the onus lies in the first instance, do what the President has said he will do; NOT give nominations to the rascals and crooks in politics. Easier said than done, though.

The public is more than disappointed with the performances past and the shenanigans present. The members clearly are in a scramble for their own after-life as this Parliament gasps for breath before it expires in April next year.
This numbers game must cease. Enough of 225 is enough.

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