The news about the completion of the report on electoral reforms is indeed an oasis in an arid desert of disconcerting reports that the people of this country are treated to regularly. According to the news report carried in Tuesday`s edition of this newspaper, Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms Dinesh Gunawardena has said that the PSC has finalized its recommendations and that the report will be ready after their April 24 meeting.
The proceedings of this PSC were unduly delayed mainly for want of adequate cooperation from the political parties. Occasions were numerous when we stressed in these columns the urgent need for finalizing these reforms. Minister Gunawardena who has been persistently making an endeavour to complete the task has said that they have come to the present stage after long and hard deliberations and that their effort has been to put forward a feasible set of recommendations at the earliest possible date.
As agreed upon by all political parties, the present recommendations are based on the German model, which provides for a mixture of proportional representation and first-past-the-post systems. The recommendations would apply to local, provincial and national level institutions.
As explained by Constitutional Affairs Minister D.E.W.Gunasekera, the key objectives of the reforms will be to ensure stable governments and to give fair representation to all the ethnic and religious communities.
Provisions for greater female representation in the political system, a mechanism to ensure asset declaration of party candidates prior to elections and the barring of defeated candidates from being appointed as MPs through the national list, have been incorporated in the recommendations.
It is well known that most of this country`s problems arise from the unsatisfactory political system that is operating in the country at present. The existing system facilitates corruption, political favouritism, abuse of power and other evils rather than discourage them.
Such undesirable practices as non-declaration of assets by candidates prior to elections and the appointment of defeated candidates to parliament via the national list will hopefully end with the implementation of the proposed reforms. The country would then have one hurdle placed on its progress removed.
The PSC has advisedly refrained from taking up issues relating to the executive presidency and the proposed second chamber on the ground that those matters did not come within the terms of the PSC on electoral reforms.
The appropriate forum for deliberation on these issues is the All-Party Representatives Committee (APRC)to which proposals in this respect have been submitted.The question whether to continue with the executive presidential system with modifications as suggested by some parties or to replace it with a system of executive premiership as proposed by the SLFP, is a question that should receive serious and prudent consideration.
The main purpose of establishing the executive presidential system was to ensure stability of administrations. Any decision to abolish it has to be taken to after a full, fair and impartial assessment of its nearly 30-year operation.
Some sections politially prejudiced against the architect of the system President J.R.Jayewardene have always condemned it without proper evaluation of the system.
They fail to see any positive aspects of the system and attribute all the country`s ills to the executive presidential system and the liberalisation of the economy that was introduced during that period. An objective analysis of the system should, therefore, recede any decision on the issue.
Another matter as important as the electoral reforms is the full and proper implementation of the 17th Amendment to the constitution that provides for the establishment of independent commissions. The depoliticisation of the administration that it sought to achieved through these commissions needs to be intensely pursued.
The widely desired shift from acute politicisation to depoliticisation is indeed a sine qua non for the enthronement of the concept of good governance to which all political parties have declared their commitment. It is futile to expect truly free and fair elections without the proper establishment of the proposed independent elections commission.
We fervently hope that the proposed electoral reforms will have a speedy implementation with the cooperation of all political parties and concerned sections of the public.