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EXCLUSIVE: TNA wants PC polls soon while delimitation is discussed

By Easwaran Rutnam

 

Despite the issues surrounding the delimitation process, the Tamil National Alliance (TNS) says it wants the provincial council elections to be held soon.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian and spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran told The Sunday Morning that, in order to hold the elections on time, the Government must revert to the old system and hold the elections while discussing the best possible system for the future through constitutional reforms.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Why did the TNA decide to vote against the delimitation report in Parliament?

A: We are opposed to the 50/50 proportion. When the Bill was brought originally it was 60/40. In the Constitutional Assembly Steering Committee all parties had agreed to a 60/40 Mixed Member Proportion (MMP) system. So the Local Government Bill was also amended to a 60/40 MMP and we amended this also to 60/40 so that there will be uniformity with regard to that.

But when the Bill was passed, some small parties insisted that it must be 50/50 and since the AG ruled that you need a two-thirds majority to pass it, the Government changed it to 50/50. Even at that stage we were opposed to a 50/50 proportion.

The Government then said the 60/40 proportion in the Local Government Act will be on an experimental basis to see how it works. In our opinion, even a 60/40 MMP will deliver an unstable council. There must be some other adjustments made to it, like a bonus for the winners and a cut off so that parties that get very few votes are eliminated, etc. Then we might be able to reach some stability; but 50/50 will be absolutely disastrous. So soon after the local government elections we said we cannot agree to a 50/50 MMP.

That was one. The other is, the way the delimitation process was done was very disadvantageous to us in certain areas. Particularly in Trincomalee, Ampara and places like that. It wasn’t just.

So that’s why we decided to vote against it. Our position is that this must be rectified and the delimitation itself must be redone. Plus 50/50 proportion must be made 65/35 plus cut-off and bonus.

Our position also is that if these adjustments can’t be made, if there is no consensus and all parties don’t agree to it, then while we discuss the system we can’t delay the elections. So we took the position that while we discuss the best system possible, in order to hold the provincial council elections on time, the Government must revert to the old scheme and hold the elections and then we can decide the best system possible for all three tiers and all that can be done with the constitutional reforms.

Q: The President and the Government pledged electoral reforms during the 2015 elections. Do you not think the Government will fail to honour this pledge by looking at holding the provincial council elections under the proportional representation (PR) system?

A: Well, the new Constitution project was launched with three promises. One is electoral system, the other is devolution of powers and the third is the executive presidency. The abolishing of the executive presidency was the topmost of the pledges. So all three need to be done in the new Constitution. So if one were to ask this question, I would say the Government is dragging its feet in framing the new Constitution. We can’t take these three issues separately and say it has failed in one and not failed in the other.

It has failed so far in enacting the new Constitution.

Q: In your opinion, will the old PR electoral system ensure a better place for minority parties in public bodies like the local government bodies, provincial councils, and Parliament?

A: PR is a good system. It is a very democratic system; but we were willing to go along with a change to that based on the general perceived understanding that the preferential vote system ensures MPs answer to constituencies. So we were willing to go with that, so long as it did not make a dent into our representation. It will make some dent but we were willing to absorb that for the sake of reaching a consensus on this and on the national question. All these are interconnected – the parliamentary elections system, executive presidency, and the devolution of powers. So there has to be some give and take. So we went along with that because we cannot take one of these three in isolation but as a whole.

Q: The provincial council system under the 13th Amendment was presented as the first form of power devolution in the country and was hailed by Tamil politicians at the time. Would the delay in holding PC polls and the TNA’s stance on it play a key role in the issue of power devolution?

A: Of course. There should not be any delay. That is why we have said, even if there is no electoral reform overall, you cannot delay holding the elections on account of that. That is why we say go back to the old system just hold the elections.

Q: What steps will the TNA take to ensure a political solution for the Tamil-speaking people in the country?

A: So far, we have corporated in this Constitutional Assembly exercise without any reservation and we have now reached a stage where there is a single draft that has been presented by an expert panel. That is a huge step forward. The steering committee needs to meet once more and decide to place it before the Constitutional Assembly to see if there is two-thirds support for it.

So we have come a very long way. Although we complained that there had been undue delay, we also recognise that after over 76 to 77 meetings of the steering committee, most of the issues have been ironed out and agreements found. So, on that basis we want the Government to take this forward.

What is lacking at present is the political will on the part of the President and the Prime Minister to take this consensus forward.

Q: Will the TNA earnestly seek the support of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Joint Opposition to ensure the process to draft a new Constitution is successful?

A: Yes. Very much. Because in the sub committees and in the steering committees, the Joint Opposition is involved. So we will pursue our discussions with the Joint Opposition also to ensure they come onboard and support it because this is a historic opportunity. Ever since independence there has been no consensus on a Constitution yet and we would very much like the Joint Opposition to be part of this exercise.

Q: Is the TNA satisfied with the manner in which the President and the Yahapalana Government have governed the country since 2015?

A: Well, yes and no. It’s a case of a glass half full. We must acknowledge that many things have been done, which could not have been done if there was no change of regime; but our people’s expectations have not been met. A lot of promises were given. Most of those were to be completed in 100 days but only half of those have been done even in three years. So, there is long undue delay but that does not take away from the fact that much has been done.