Sunil Bastian

(2003) The Politics of Electoral Reform - Proportional Representation of Sri Lanka.

In: Sunil Bastian and Robin Luckham, eds. Can Democracy be Designed? London: Zed Books.

This paper focuses on the relationship between the establishment of an electoral system based on the principles of proportional representation (PR) and the political economy of Sri Lanka.s capitalism. Its main argument is that one of the principal objectives of introducing PR in 1978 was to take care of some of the problems that the first-past-the-post (FPP) system of elections was posing to further development of the economy in the direction of capitalism.

The post independent capitalist development in Sri Lanka can be divided into three phases. The first, lasting from independence to the mid-fifties, the second from the mid fifties to mid-seventies, and the third from 1977 onwards. The massive electoral victory of the centre-right United National Party (UNP) led by J.R. Jayawardena in July 1977 marks the end of what can be called the „closed economy. phase of capitalist development in Sri Lanka. This phase, characterised by state dominance in the economy and an extreme degree of regulation of markets, had led to an economy that was virtually stagnant. The social consequences of these measures were widely felt in society. On top of this were the political repercussions of an insurgency in 1971. The government.s response to the insurgency led to human rights violations on a wide scale. All this resulted in the defeat of the government led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in the July 1977 general elections, bringing the UNP to power.

With the arrival of the UNP government in 1977 Sri Lankan capitalism began its liberalised phase, which emphasised market forces, private capital and openness to the world market. The role of the state was de-emphasised. Multilateral agencies like the IMF and World Bank began to play a much greater role in the economic policies of the country, both in terms of financial assistance and policy prescriptions. Keeping with the neo-liberal ideology dominant in these agencies, a great emphasis was placed on balancing budgets and bringing about structural changes to promote a liberalised economy.

Parallel to these developments within the economy, the system of governance also went through a major change. The most important changes were the establishment of a presidential form of government, and the introduction of PR to elect the legislature. From then onwards, a powerful presidency, that enjoyed a considerable degree of power independent of the parliament, directed the executive arm of the government, while a parliament, elected on the basis of proportional representation, occupied the legislature.

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