We, Sri Lankans, numbering about 20 million inhabiting an area of 65,000 sq km have over 4,000 political representatives at different levels of government. As if that were not enough, there has sprung a plethora of political parties and if they continue to grow at the present rate the day may not be far off when we have a political party each to represent all of us.
It is reported that the registration of some political parties has lapsed for legal reasons and according to a new law, parties will have to conform to a number of new criteria prescribed by the Elections Commissioner`s Department to obtain registration.
According to reports, among the parties which have failed to qualify for registration is the one the JVP sought to register for fielding the Opposition`s common presidential candidate. However, the Opposition can always use or buy a party that has already been registered for that purpose. So, it is unlikely that the Opposition`s plan will go awry simply because of the JVP`s failure, if any, to register a new party. The JVP says it has not received any official communication to that effect.
In a democracy, it may not be desirable to impose restrictions on the registration of organisations, political or otherwise, so long as they operate within the confines of the law. But, the proliferation of political parties formed according to their founders` whims and fancies serves no purpose. In fact, they are a nuisance when it comes to elections. Once, in these columns, we likened Sri Lanka`s political party system to a beggar woman with a huge malnourished brood. They have only led to the lengthening of ballot papers over the years much to the confusion of the voting public. Ballot papers are already as long as the Dumbara mats! What they will be like in a few years to come is anybody`s guess.
Going by the funny names some political parties have, it looks as if people made a beeline for the Elections Secretariat to register parties even without pausing to think of names for them. Sometime ago a party was registered under the name, api okkama rajavaru (All of us are kings!). How could there be so many kings? (This name also smacks of male chauvinism, a feminist may argue, because there is no reference to `queens`.) There is only one `king` in this country, the State media tell us. And his rivals are trying to grab the throne in a bitterly fought contest. That is the name of the game in politics, one may say.
The exponential increase in the number of political parties has to do with the Proportional Representation system, especially the lowering of the cut-off point from 12 per cent to 5 per cent. This has benefited a number of minority parties which would otherwise have been without representation in Parliament, Provincial Councils and Local Government bodies. The majority of small parties have become political hitchhikers dependent on the two main parties, which function as giant vacuum cleaners sucking in all political dregs.
One man`s gain is another man`s loss, it is said. While the teeny weeny political entities manage to garner votes scattered throughout a district thanks to PR, the country gets unstable governments, which try to shore up their strength by engineering defections from the Opposition and rewarding crossovers with Cabinet positions. Thus, we are burdened with jumbo Cabinets!
So, today, because of PR and the mushrooming of political parties (name-boards?), the country which used to have a two party system now has a two coalition system. There have been proposals to change the electoral system with a view to preventing political instability associated with the PR system but it is not possible to return to the first-past-the-post (FPP) system now a new system to be adopted will have to contain the characteristics of both FPP and PR systems if small parties are not to be placed at a disadvantage. What cannot be cured, they say, must be endured!