Delimitation Commission chief clarifies: Report is just and fair | Sunday Observer

Delimitation Commission chief clarifies: Report is just and fair

2 September, 2018
Dr. K. Thavalingam - Chairman Delimitation Committee
Dr. K. Thavalingam - Chairman Delimitation Committee

The Delimitation Report which is crucial to hold the next Priovincial Council election as per the new elections law, introduced last year, was rejected by political parties a week ago, when it was presented in Parliament by Minister Faiszer Mustapha.

With the exception of JVP, the right wing UNP to the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa-backed left leaning SLPP as well as the main minority parties TNA and SLMC criticised the report and voted it down further diluting the prospects of having the PC elections this year to revive the expired Councils.

The Sunday Observer in a bid to find as to what went wrong, interviewed the Chairman of the Delimitation Committee Dr.K.Thavalingam who stood by his report and confirmed that the Committee had fulfilled its mandate to the fullest. Admitting that there were issues that did not fall under its scope, he said proposals to rectify such concerns were submitted to the Speaker separately.

Q. What was the scope of the Delimitation Committee?

Delimitation is to demarcate the boundaries of electoral constituencies in a district based on the latest national census. The Provincial Councils Elections (Amendment) Act, No.17 of 2017 which was introduced last year has mandated a delimitation of the boundaries of electorates before holding polls under this new law.    

Electorates have to be demarcated in the administrative districts according to population numbers of the Census of Population and Housing - 2012 in order to elect half of the number of members from each administrative district.

There are several categories of administrative units within the administrative districts - Grama Niladhari Divisions (GNDs), Divisional Secretariats (DSs), etc. Delimitation had to be carried out taking their boundaries into careful consideration because the areas of authority in such units are legally established, mapped and the Census is conducted based on those boundaries.

The Committee did not have any authority to balance the population numbers in the electorates outside those boundaries. The Committee took action to demarcate electorates to elect 222 members out of a total number of 437 members for the nine Provincial Councils from the 25 administrative districts.

Q. The report was rejected by Parliament without a single vote in favour. Was the report flawed in some way?

I don’t believe so. We have done a 100% accurate job within our parameters. The Delimitation Committee established Sub Committees under the Chairmanship of the District Secretary, with the Senior Superintendent of Surveys and the Assistant Commissioner of Elections of each district as the other members. A paper notice on the delimitation procedure was published on October 13, 2017 for the information of political parties, civil organisations and the public inviting proposals for delimitation before November 2, 2017.

In addition, the Members of Parliament, Secretaries of recognised political parties and members of Provincial Councils were also invited to forward their proposals. Members of the Committee visited all 25 districts to obtain views and suggestions from the public as well as religious leaders, to prepare the report.

Q. What were the issues raised at the hearing?

Political parties, civil organisations and people’s representatives in Parliament, Provincial Councils and local authorities who are currently serving or who had served in the past, made written or oral submissions to the Committee. Some said taking the last Census conducted in the year 2012 was not justifiable in considering population of an administrative district as a base in this delimitation process. Their opinion was that information on population numbers for 2016 should be taken for this purpose in those areas. The Delimitation Committee is bound to its mandate to demarcate electorates based on the number of Provincial Council Members for a district as determined under the existing law and on the population numbers taken from the last national Census of 2012. Population numbers calculated in inter-censal years are only estimates and cannot be used for this exercise.

Q. There were also submissions or requests to create Multi member Electorates but they were not entertained. Why was this?

Many proposals were submitted by four ethnic groups -Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, Moors, and Indian Origin (Malaiyaga) Tamils. Minority communities as well as majority communities of the province requested to create multi-member electorates. But the Delimitation Committee had to avoid multi-member electorates for certain reasons.

If multi-member electorates are created as safety measures to provide for the representation of minority communities of interest, a safety mechanism would need to be incorporated to ensure that the second member is from a different community to the community represented by the winning member. This is not practiced in the new local government elections. As such, the mere creation of multi-member electorates without such a safety mechanism would not be a guarantee to fulfill the requirements of minorities. The Committee, however, proposed alternative solutions to achieve the required objective, of elected members representing different communities in the district. There were proposals to increase the number of members to be elected to Provincial Councils and increase the number of the electorates based on increased numbers of members from each district. This will help to create smaller electorates and, in turn, it will help to ensure the representation of minorities. But this was not within our mandate. Suggestions were made by the displaced communities from Mannar district and the Muslim community to provide sunset arrangements based on the population size of the districts in which they lived before displacement, in order to safeguard their political representation to the Northern Provincial Council. This too was not within our mandate. The Committee recommends that this matter be taken up at policy level.

Q. How did you propose to address the call for special arrangements for Scattered Provincial Minorities?

A. Some proposals suggested to make necessary arrangements at provincial level for dispersed minorities, who were in a significant number in districts and at provincial level but were scattered across those areas without concentration. As a result, they would lose their representation through electorates in a particular province.

They also suggested that the existing two bonus seats for each province could be allocated to electorally non-represented minorities at provincial level, especially for Indian Origin (Malaiyaga) Tamils and Muslims living in the Western, Central, Southern, North Western, North Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces, Sinhalese living in the Northern and Eastern provinces and Malays living in Hambantota district.

Such changes were not within our purview. But in this regard, as Chairman of the Delimitation Commission, I gave certain proposals to party leaders through the Speaker in July 2018.

One of the two proposals was to increase bonus seats to five. The proposed mixed system with overhang members may create instability in establishing Provincial Governments.

To safeguard against instability it is proposed that the number of bonus seats per Provincial Council be increased from the present two to five. The party which forms the Provincial Government should get five bonus seats. To increase the representation of minorities in the Provincial Councils a clearly set out criteria was proposed.

The Proposal Two focused on dispersed minorities.The dispersed minorities, who were in significant numbers in districts and at provincial level, but were scattered across those areas without geographical concentration would lose their representation through electorates under the FPP system in a particular province. Therefore it is suggested that the existing 2 bonus seats for each province could be allocated to minorities at provincial level, on consideration of district entitlements. The criteria were clearly laid down by the Committee.

Q. The minority parties lament that the proposed system guarantees no representation for them under Proportional Representation (PR) List System

A. Yes, several minority groups dispersed at provincial level expressed their view that there is a perception that the new electoral system will enable even a minority community that is not concentrated in one electorate but scattered all over the district to elect their representative to an electorate. As such there is an unfounded fear among minorities that they would be deprived of their right to have their own representative through the PR list system in situations where they could not elect a representative through the electorates.

Such concerns could not be addressed within our limited purview but we did not discard their proposals.

The Committee recommended that a mechanism be included in the Proportional Representation List system at district level to secure representation for minority communities that were entitled to a member according to their percentage share in a district when they are unable to elect their representative from an electorate under the simple majority system.

In the submissions made at district hearings regarding the above criteria, two proposals were made. One proposal was to create smaller Single Member electorates for Area Specific Minority Communities.

Tamils in other than Northern province, Muslims in other than Ampara district, as well as Sinhalese living in the Northern and Eastern provinces, requested to ensure their representation in each Provincial Council.

The other proposal was to reduce population size and raise tolerance rate to demarcate smaller minority electorates.

Moors and Indian Origin (Malaiyaga) Tamils living outside the Northern and Eastern provinces, as well as Sinhalese and Indian Origin (Malaiyaga) Tamils living in the Northern Province had submitted many proposals requesting creation of smaller electorates by considering the smaller population size and ethnic concentration in those specific geographical areas.

In this regard as Chairman of the Delimitation Commission, I gave proposals to party leaders through the Speaker in July 2018. These two issues can be positively considered in future by the Review Committee.

The proposed mixed electoral system combines the positive attributes of both FPP and PR electoral systems. This system gives equal value to every vote cast without size (population) of the electorate to a certain extent. Therefore small electorates can be created for special reasons like community of interest etc. However, small electorates may lead to increase overhang seats. This theory requires further study to ensure equitable representation of all votes.

Q. There is a complaint against the Delimitation report regarding the division of Poojapitiya electorate

A. There was no Poojapitiya Electorate in the Past. There is a Poojapitiya Divisional Secretariat. Poojapitiya was part of old Harispattuwa Electorate. Old Harispattuwa electorate was a Multi member electorate, one member for Sinhalese community and one member for Muslim community. Committee divided this old Harispattuwa electorate into two single member electorates. One single member electorate for Sinhalese community and one single member electorate for Muslim community.

To create single member electorate for Muslim community the Poojapitiya Divisional Secretariat was divided into two parts. It has 67 Grama Niladhari Divisions. Out of 67, 26 GNDs merged with Akurana to create an electorate for Muslim community.

And the balance 41 GNDs merged with Hataraliyadda and named as Hataraliyadda electorate. If the Poojapitiya people want Poojapitiya electorate, Hataraliyadda electorate can be renamed as Poojapitiya electorate by Review Committee.

Q. At the debate Muslim MPs said after the delimitation, the current 43 seats for Muslim members have come down to13. Your comments?

A. As electorates have been created for 50%, Muslim community should get minimum 19 members based on 2012 census. We created only 13 electorates, We could not allocate seats for Muslims for balance six electorates because Muslims are so scattered in those districts. It happened for Indian Tamils too, because they are so scattered in those districts. As the best possible alternative they were accommodated in one electorate to make them a deciding factor for winning party.

Q. Do you accept concerns raised by minority parties that rejected the report?

A. I don’t agree with the TNA’s rejection of the report. In the North and the East the seat entitlement for them was not changed. We had to do a small adjustment in the Ampara district, Navindanwali electorate was merged with Uhana and to balance this Lahugala was merged with Pottuvil.

This was done to eliminate disproportion among populations in electorates within Ampara district. But there is no effect to the overall picture. Some of the concerns the TNA raised in Parliament were never mentioned to the Committee at our hearings.

Q. How can we end the current stalemate ?

A. We have carried out our task within a limited scope that was dictated upon the Committee by the Provincial Councils Elections Amendment Act 2017. If we are to go beyond this, I believe amendments to the existing law may be required.