Im­ple­ment­ing key prin­ci­ples in the de­lim­i­ta­tion of elec­toral bound­aries

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - COMMENT - By Dr. Anila Dias Ban­daranaike

This ar­ti­cle is a fol­low up to the ar­ti­cle ti­tled ‘ Serv­ing Cit­i­zens through Ef­fec­tive De­lim­i­ta­tion of Geo­graph­i­cal Bound­aries in Sri Lanka ( The Sun­day Times of Oc­to­ber 28, 2018). It will at­tempt to ex­plain why cer­tain key prin­ci­ples of de­lim­i­ta­tion are crit­i­cally im­por­tant and how they can be best im­ple­mented. The fo­cus will be on the fol­low­ing prin­ci­ples: Con­sid­er­a­tion of two key fac­tors -- pop­u­la­tion and land:

The De­lim­i­ta­tion process should ad­dress the to­tal pop­u­la­tion within bound­aries, recog­nis­ing the needs of all cit­i­zens and the to­tal land area within bound­aries, recog­nis­ing ter­rain dif­fer­ences and the need to safe­guard en­vi­ron­men­tal re­sources. In­clu­sive­ness and Rep­re­sen­ta­tive­ness:

The De­lim­i­ta­tion process should ad­dress eq­ui­tably the well-be­ing of each in­di­vid­ual and the con­serv­ing of each unit of land. Un­bi­ased­ness:

The De­lim­i­ta­tion process should not be bi­ased to­wards any sub-pop­u­la­tion or any land area. It should recog­nise the plu­ral­ity and mul­ti­cul­tural di­ver­sity of peo­ple liv­ing in the coun­try. The needs of these di­verse groups should be achieved to the best ex­tent pos­si­ble, without com­pro­mis­ing on any other as­pects of eq­ui­table rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Sim­i­larly, this ap­plies to the land. Data Con­sis­tency:

The De­lim­i­ta­tion process must be based on a con­sis­tent set of data for both pop­u­la­tion num­bers and land and should be com­pa­ra­ble across the coun­try.

As ex­plained in the pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cle, de­lim­i­ta­tion of geo­graph­i­cal bound­aries for any pur­pose -- whether col­lec­tion of in­for­ma­tion, ad­min­is­tra­tion, ser­vice de­liv­ery or elec­tion of cit­i­zens’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives -- should be bound by the above prin­ci­ples.

In the case of elec­toral bound­aries, un­der cur­rent laws, the de­lim­i­ta­tion process for all three lev­els of elec­toral rep­re­sen­ta­tion, namely Par­lia­men­tary, Provin­cial Coun­cils ( PC) and Lo­cal Au­thor­i­ties (LA), be­gins with the ex­ist­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive dis­tricts ( dis­tricts). In Par­lia­men­tary and PC elec­tions, elec­toral bound­aries to select a rep­re­sen­ta­tive, lie within a dis­trict. In LA elec­tions, each LA lies within a dis­trict, while elec­toral bound­aries to select rep­re­sen­ta­tives to each LA lie within that LA.

I be­lieve that the pri­mary ob­jec­tive of ev­ery right-think­ing elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive is to im­prove the well­be­ing of cit­i­zens and con­serve each land unit within their elec­toral boundary. Un­der this premise, the de­lim­i­ta­tion process must en­sure that all cit­i­zens are rep­re­sented eq­ui­tably. The de­lim­i­ta­tion process is about best meet­ing the needs of its peo­ple and land, NOT about safe­guard­ing the power and priv­i­leges of po­lit­i­cal par­ties, as some ap­pear to be­lieve!

The de­lim­i­ta­tion process should strive for elec­toral bound­aries that will en­able rep­re­sen­ta­tion of dif­fer­ing needs in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, such as the safety and se­cu­rity of com­mu­ni­ties of in­ter­est ( mi­nor­ity groups by race or re­li­gion, fe­male-headed house­holds, dis­abled, etc.) to live in peace and har­mony with oth­ers; the health and wel­fare of the vul­ner­a­ble (dif­fer­ently-abled, in­fants and el­derly), the qual­ity of school fa­cil­i­ties and teach­ers; ac­cess to em­ploy­ment and eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties; in­fra­struc­ture for com­merce, in­dus­trial and agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties; en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion against floods, ero­sion, land­slides and other nat­u­ral calami­ties, etc.

As in other coun­tries, pop­u­la­tions and land ar­eas vary con­sid­er­ably among the 25 dis­tricts in Sri Lanka. Such vari­a­tions will al­ways ex­ist. In some ar­eas the well­be­ing of the pop­u­la­tion would re­quire more at­ten­tion and re­sources, while in oth­ers, the fo­cus would be on con­ser­va­tion of land re­sources. The more ur­banised dis­tricts (Colombo, Gam­paha) have larger pop­u­la­tions liv­ing in smaller ar­eas, while the more ru­ral dis­tricts ( Anu­rad­ha­pura, Mon­er­a­gala) have smaller pop­u­la­tions, but cover larger tracts of land, rich in forests, wa­ter and agri­cul­ture. The above prin­ci­ples need to be im­ple­mented af­ter giv­ing due con­sid­er­a­tion to such vari­a­tions. These prin­ci­ples are al­ready en­shrined in ex­ist­ing le­gal pro­vi­sions, as de­scribed be­low.

Ba­sic Fac­tors to be Con­sid­ered for the Elec­toral Boundary De­lim­i­ta­tion Process

En­sure equal vot­ing strength for each mem­ber of the pop­u­la­tion within a dis­trict: This pro­vides for in­clu­sive­ness, rep­re­sen­ta­tive­ness and un­bi­ased­ness. The dis­trict pop­u­la­tion com­prises both be­low vot­ing age and vot­ing age pop­u­la­tion. How­ever, the adults ( vot­ing age) need to rep­re­sent the rights of the young (non-vot­ing age) as well their own. Hence, it is the “to­tal pop­u­la­tion”, rather than the voter pop­u­la­tion, that should be used as the pop­u­la­tion base for rep­re­sen­ta­tion. As im­por­tantly, the de­lim­i­ta­tion process should tar­get equal pop­u­la­tion per elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive within each dis­trict (or LA), to en­sure eq­ui­table rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Prac­ti­cally, it is not al­ways pos­si­ble to ob­tain iden­ti­cal sub- pop­u­la­tion sizes for all elec­torates within a dis­trict (or LA). Hence, once the av­er­age pop­u­la­tion per elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive (to­tal pop­u­la­tion di­vided by the num­ber of elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives) is de­ter­mined, the de­lim­i­ta­tion process should min­imise dis­pro­por­tion among elec­torates within a Dis­trict (or LA) (i.e. bal­ance the pop­u­la­tion distri­bu­tion among elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives) by agree­ing to a pre-spec­i­fied tol­er­ance level (say 5-10% above or be­low the av­er­age pop­u­la­tion per elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive) to al­low for any un­avoid­able vari­a­tion. This prin­ci­ple is en­shrined in Sec­tion 3A( 4)( b)( i) of the Provin­cial Coun­cils Elec­tions (Amend­ment) Act No.17 of 2017.

Recog­nise a) ex­ist­ing geo­graph­i­cal fea­tures and b) ex­ist­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive bound­aries within a dis­trict:

The de­lim­i­ta­tion process should fo­cus on the spe­cific en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns in dif­fer­ent ar­eas and ra­tio­nalise ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­cesses within the dis­trict. De­lim­i­ta­tion needs to en­sure that the pop­u­la­tion within any elec­toral boundary has ac­cess to its elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive and vice-versa. This re­quires that an elec­toral boundary com­prises a con­tigu­ous area of land such that all its in­hab­i­tants have con­ve­nient ac­cess, hav­ing given due recog­ni­tion to the phys­i­cal shape of a dis­trict, its con­ti­gu­ity and com­pact­ness, its geo­graph­i­cal fea­tures and nat­u­ral bound­aries such as wa­ter bod­ies, ravines and moun­tains; ease of ac­cess to road net­works and trans­porta­tion; ease of ac­cess to com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­works and phys­i­cally de­fined nat­u­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

This prin­ci­ple is en­shrined in Sec­tion 3A( 4)( b)( ii) of the Provin­cial Coun­cils Elec­tions (Amend­ment) Act No.17 of 2017. For ex­am­ple, we can­not ex­pect cit­i­zens on one side of a moun­tain or deep ravine to travel to the other side to meet their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive -- Cit­i­zens should have rep­re­sen­ta­tives on ei­ther side. Fur­ther, all de­mo­graphic in­for­ma­tion in Sri Lanka is col­lected within the small­est ad­min­is­tra­tive units, namely, Grama Ni­ladari Di­vi­sions (GNDs). Hence, it is prac­ti­cally im­por­tant to use these GNDs as the geo­graph­i­cal ba­sis for de­lim­i­ta­tion, and com­bine them, without split­ting, to form elec­toral bound­aries. Since GNDs com­bine to form Di­vi­sional Sec­re­tari­ats (DSs) within Dis­tricts ( See ta­ble), it is best to try and keep DSs in­tact, to the ex­tent pos­si­ble. How­ever, if DSs are re­quired to be split to meet other spe­cific cri­te­ria, they should be di­vided into groups of con­tigu­ous GNDs to form an elec­toral boundary.

Recog­nise a ‘ Com­mu­nity of In­ter­est’ within an area of a dis­trict: The de­lim­i­ta­tion process should give due con­sid­er­a­tion to any com­mu­nity of in­ter­est within an area that dif­fers from the ma­jor­ity of pop­u­la­tion in that area due to a) shared racial or eth­nic back­ground, b) shared his­tory and/or cul­ture c) shared re­li­gion d) shared lan­guage e) shared so­cio-eco­nomic or in­come sta­tus f) shared eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties g) shared gen­der or any other dif­fer­en­tiat

ing fac­tor.

This prin­ci­ple is en­shrined in Sec­tion 3A( 4)( a) of the Provin­cial Coun­cils Elec­tions (Amend­ment) Act No.17 of 2017. In this con­text, ef­forts should be made to en­sure that these com­mu­ni­ties of in­ter­est

have eq­ui­table rep­re­sen­ta­tion in any elected body com­men­su­rate with their con­cen­tra­tion in the pop­u­la­tion of that dis­trict, through the ef­fec­tive de­mar­ca­tion of elec­toral bound­aries in those ar­eas. For ex­am­ple, in the Bat­ticaloa Dis­trict, the peo­ple along the coast are mainly en­gaged in trad­ing and busi­ness, whereas those liv­ing inland from the la­goon are mostly agri­cul­tur­al­ists. Hence their needs vary, and in a best-case sce­nario, each should have their own rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Sim­i­larly, in ar­eas where there are a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of the pop­u­la­tion linked by a com­mon re­li­gion, race or cul­tural tra­di­tion, but re­main­ing a mi­nor­ity in the dis­trict, it would help for them to be ge­o­graph­i­cally grouped to have a rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the elected body to see to their needs, sub­ject, of course to the con­di­tions re­quired to be met at 1) and 2) above.

Data Con­sis­tency: In any coun­try, the de­lim­i­ta­tion process has to use data from the most re­cent na­tional pop­u­la­tion and land cen­sus con­ducted for that coun­try. This en­sures con­sis­tency and un­bi­ased­ness of the data col­lec­tion. It is free of bi­ases aris­ing from dif­fer­ent method­olo­gies or dif fer­ent col­lec­tion mech­a­nisms. His­tor­i­cally, in Sri Lanka, too, de­lim­i­ta­tion of elec­torates has al­ways been based on the lat­est cen­sus data. Some­times, pop­u­la­tion may have mi­grated in to, out of, or within the coun­try for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons (drought, floods, civil war, lack of em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, etc.) be­tween the last

cen­sus and the time of de­lim­i­ta­tion, thereby ren­der­ing the cen­sus data some­what dif­fer­ent from the cur­rent ground sit­u­a­tion. How­ever, us­ing more re­cent data col­lected by dif­fer­ent sources us­ing in­con­sis­tent def­i­ni­tions in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try (e.g. 25 dif­fer­ent Dis­trict Sec­re­tari­ats) would ren­der the en­tire de­lim­i­ta­tion process more in­con­sis­tent than us­ing less re­cent, but in­ter­nally con­sis­tent, un­bi­ased Na­tional Cen­sus data.

Ef­fec­tive de­lim­i­ta­tion of elec­toral bound­aries that is un­der­taken within a clearly es­tab­lished frame­work and set of prin­ci­ples, can go a long way to­wards rais­ing the con­fi­dence of our peo­ple in the elec­toral process and hope­fully, at­tract young women and men of abil­ity and in­tegrity to pro­vide coura­geous, vi­sion­ary lead­er­ship in fu­ture Sri Lankan pol­i­tics for the well-be­ing of our peo­ple and the safe­guard­ing of our en­vi­ron­ment.

( Since Novem­ber 2015, the author has been a mem­ber of the three- mem­ber De­lim­i­ta­tion Com­mis­sion, one of nine In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sions ap­pointed by the Pres­i­dent un­der the 19th Amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion. She was also a mem­ber of the De­lim­i­ta­tion Com­mit­tee for Provin­cial Coun­cil Elec­tions ap­pointed by the Pres­i­dent in Oc­to­ber 2017. That Com­mit­tee com­pleted its task, within its man­date of 4 months, in Feb­ru­ary 2018. She served as Di­rec­tor of Statis­tics and later, re­tired as As­sis­tant Gov­er­nor from the Cen­tral Bank of Sri Lanka in 2007.)

Ta­ble 2: Di­vi­sional Sec­re­tari­ats (DSs) and Grama Ni­ladari Di­vi­sions (GNs) by Dis­tricts

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