Foreign Affairs

‘Best Loser’ (Gunawardena) Technique Undemocratic

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

If 1 desires to modify the nature of a specific democracy, the electoral program is probably to be the most appropriate and successful instrument of undertaking so.” &#8211  Arend Lijphart

Any electoral reform that intends to substantially alter the proportional representation (PR) in Sri Lanka will go against people’ sovereignty. For that reason, any try to do so need to be opposed. This does not imply that the introduction of ‘first previous the post (FPP) constituencies,’ within the current or a new PR system is undemocratic. In reality these constituencies are necessary to improve the elector-elector links for much better democracy and representative accountability.

Among the so far discussed or disclosed proposals, the ‘best loser’ approach linked with the Dinesh Gunawardena (DG) recommendations on mixing (not linking) FPP and PR is the most undemocratic.

There are two primary nations which employ the ‘best loser’ (BL) strategy at present: Mauritius and Japan. It is possible that DG or his advisers picked the technique from Japan than Mauritius since the program in Mauritius has been far more controversial than in Japan and it is in the method of abandoning at present. Italy also employed the ‘best loser’ technique throughout 1993 and 2005 but abandoned it for whatever the reason.

Expertise in Mauritius

When Mauritius received independence in 1967, it adapted this method from the colonial practice of ‘communal representation.’ It was an appendage to the Westminster FPP program to let particular minorities to give representation on the basis of their assertion. For this objective all candidates have been compelled to ‘declare their ethnicity/religion’ which was fundamentally undemocratic. At the starting it worked nicely and even considered a needed ingredient in a multi-ethnic/religious society. It had nothing considerably to do with proportional representation.

Mauritius is divided into 21 multimember constituencies and elects 62 members by way of the FPP program. As described before, the constitution compels all contestants to declare his/her ethnicity and particular minorities (Muslims, Christians, Chinese or Creoles) qualify for the ‘best loser’ accommodation for 8 seats in a 70 member assembly. All may possibly be losers, but only the greatest are accommodated under the scheme. For that reason, as a approach this is similar to what is proposed in Sri Lanka.

There is or was some validity in the concept when it is/was applied in the case of representation of tiny ethnic/religious minorities. Similarly, if this is applied for representation of females, nevertheless there can be some validity.

Yet, the practice was challenged just before the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) as a violation of certain principles in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and a determination was given in August 2012. That is one reason why Mauritius is now thinking about its abolition and devising a greater technique of representation which includes adopting a PR program.

Among the two primary contentions transpired for the duration of the HRC determination, the inadvisability of the stereotyped communal representation and the deviation from the principle of ‘one vote 1 value,’ the latter has a lot relevance in discarding the ‘best loser’ approach in any country.

Sekihairitsu (very best losers) in Japan

In contrast to in Mauritius, Japan makes use of the best loser technique as a portion of proportional representation. This was introduced in 1996. In a 480 member parliament, 300 members are elected via FPP method in single member constituencies and 180 in a PR tier. The PR tier is a list technique. This is also a mixed member technique, nonetheless allocation of seats in one particular tier does not dependent on the other. In other words, the constituency technique is not linked to an general PR program like in Germany or New Zealand.

As Leonard Schoppa has stated “in a mixed member technique, the devil is typically in the details,” whether in Japan, Germany, New Zealand, Sri Lanka or Russia. Russia is another country which has an unlinked mixed member system however with out a ‘best loser’ technique.

The two principal principles in the Japanese system are (1) the double candidacy (choufuku rikkouho), which is typical to a lot of mixed systems, and (2) the ‘best loser’ (sekihairitsu) provisions. The second provision signifies that the candidates in the PR list also be nominated in a single member district or vice versa. Japan usually ranks the candidates in the PR list collectively and not on a preferential order. Then the candidates who win their single member constituencies are deleted from the PR list. Thereafter, the remaining candidates are then ranked according to how close they came to winning their single member constituencies.

The ‘philosophical’ argument goes that possibly the candidate B lost to A by one vote! Consequently, the best loser notion is democratic. In Japan, the calculation employed is not the calculation proposed in Sri Lanka. Japanese ratio equals, in the above example, the votes received by A divided by the votes received by B.

The following nonetheless is the ‘devil’ according to Leonard Schoppa (The Evolution of Japan’s Party Method, 2011).

“The PR component of the new electoral system has provided a few seats to little parties, but the major parties have employed it to resolve nomination troubles in the single-member districts that are at the heart of the system.” (My emphasis).

Where the Devil in Sri Lanka?

We have nevertheless not seen the devil in Sri Lanka! Of course we have seen several devils in the political arena, but what I mean is behind the electoral reform proposals to introduce the ‘best loser’ method. The final report of the Gunawardena (PSC) Committee is not available for public scrutiny. This is even following the acceptance of ‘right to information’ in principle as a constitutional proper. The Interim PSC Report does not have a lot meat. It is only of six pages. What it says in total about the national electoral technique is the following.

“The majority view favours reforms to the present technique leading towards a Mixed Method of a mixture of First-previous-the-post and Proportional Representation Systems. Issues were raised in respect of a proposed adjust of the present program by minority parties and communities of interests who urged the committee to make sure equitable representation in the method that is finally proposed.”

“Your Committee is of the view that a mixed technique be adopted which involves components of Initial-past-the-post and Proportional Representation systems. The modalities and particulars of the technique to be adopted would be further deemed by the Committee at its future sittings and would be presented to Parliament in due course.”

“The Committee is in agreement that the present quantity of Members of Parliament need to not be elevated.”

Of course it calls for a mixed technique. It talks about a combination of FPP and PR. The Interim Report focuses on other issues like national identity cards, postal voting and even electronic voting which are not altogether unnecessary. It is attainable that there was a final report subsequently. Even so, I have heard even the Election Commissioner saying he has not noticed or it was not submitted to him.

There is significantly speak about the ‘best loser method’ or concept nevertheless. However, there can be numerous approaches of applying even the ‘best loser’ approach as we have seen above in the case of Mauritius and Japan.

In the President Maithripala Sirisena’s Election Manifesto he says the following.

&#8220I guarantee the abolition of the preferential method and will ensure that every single electorate will have a Member of Parliament of its personal.  The new electoral technique will be a mixture of the first-past-the post system and the proportional representation of defeated candidates&#8220

The 1st sentence is significantly far more important than the second. It guarantees the abolition of the preferential system and the introduction of electorates (constituencies) with its own Members of Parliament. It does not say about abolishing the PR method. It is apparent that the formulation is not effectively believed out in the hurry probably. Even though it says ‘the proportional representation of defeated candidates’ what is needed is the proportional representation of all deserving parties for good governance in the country.

Like the bizarre terminology of the ‘best loser,’ the advocacy of a ‘program of defeated candidates’ proportional representation’ (DCPR!) smacks democratic principles and excellent governance. It is unfortunate that this has creeped into Mr. Sirisena’s Manifesto. By altering the terminology to ‘runner up’ from ‘best loser’ would not make a distinction.

Greatest-Loser Mentality

Schoppa identified the intent to ‘solve nomination problems’ as the major motive behind the ‘best loser’ approach in Japan. What could be the motives in Sri Lanka? I hardly consider the concern in the Gunawardena report was for the minor or minority parties or democratic principles. It is essential to figure the period in which this ‘secret’ report has finally carved out – 2007.

The political class in Sri Lanka has, by and big, turn out to be a parasitic tribe. Appear at what they say about the Best Loser at the Presidential elections! The very best loser need to turn into the Prime Minister! This is the very same mentality in proposing the ‘best loser’ approach in the electoral program. Gunawardena is the primary man behind each moves.

I have noticed in current instances at least two essential political figures, one particular in the government and one in the dubious opposition, lamenting that they may possibly shed their assigned electorates beneath a FPP competitors. A single was also a crucial member of the Gunawardena Committee. So they can only get into parliament under the ‘best loser’ system.

This is not to say that there is something particularly incorrect in placing the exact same candidate in each tiers (FPP and PR), if the political party so wish and the individual so deserve. This might be needed particularly in the case of females candidates. Nonetheless, accommodating the ‘best losers’ or ‘defeated candidates’ need to not be the beginning point or the decisive issue in the PR tier.

There is also a essential distinction in between the constituency of the FPP winner and the PR winner. In the case of Sri Lanka, the first should be the constituency or the electorate and the second need to be the all round district. Duty and accountability need to be different. The losers must not be packed to the exact same ‘Kalawana’ seat. The proposed ‘best loser’ accommodation is arbitrary like the old ‘Kalawana’ double seating.

The ‘best loser’ (initial loser) strategy can be a trick to redistribute PR seats amongst the loser candidates of main parties in any country. What about the second or the second greatest losers? The technique will betray the objective of proportional representation altogether. As some of the members of the HRC pointed out in the Mauritius case, the ideal loser system violates a fundamental principle of universal franchise, ‘one vote a single value.’ What the proportional representation tries to obtain is not the equalisation of (obvious) unproportioned votes among winners and losers but to give due share of representation to proportionate votes that the parties and/or candidates receive from the men and women.

It is very best that the ‘best loser’ idea is entirely dropped in election vocabulary not only in Sri Lanka but everywhere altogether.

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