The Burden of Today’s Parliament on the People – The Island


Sri Lanka’s post-independence legislature consisted of two houses – the House of Representatives (parliament) and the Senate. This bicameral system, established in 1947, which replaced the State Council of Ceylon, provided checks and balances to the system of governance. Under this system, the House of Representatives had 101 members (95 popularly elected and 6 appointed by the Governor General) and the Senate had 30 members (15 elected by the House of Representatives and 15 appointed by the Governor General). The number rose to 157 after the 1960s.

The Senate was abolished on October 2, 1971, resulting in the creation of the unicameral National State Assembly. It was a political decision and not a decision taken for the good of the country or for a better governance structure. The National State Assembly in the period from 1972 to 1978 had 168 members and from 1978 the number of members was increased to 225. The increase in the quantity was of course made at the expense of quality, which can be seen when a comparison is made. made of the level of education, integrity, honesty, selfishness, corruption, etc., of parliamentarians before and after the 1970s. Even a person convicted of murder and sentenced to death by the highest court of the country was sworn in as a legislator in Parliament. It’s an irony that law breakers can also be legislators!

The question here is whether a small country like Sri Lanka needs a very heavy legislature, with so many MPs. India, which has a bicameral legislature, has 543 members in Lok Sabha and 245 members in Rajya Sabha for a population of over 1.3 billion; China, which has a unicameral system, has 2,980 members of the National People’s Congress for a population of over 1.4 billion; Japan, which has a bicameral system, has 465 members in the House of Representatives (Lower House) and 245 members in the House of Councilors (Upper House) for a population of over 126 million. Similar comparisons can be made with countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc. Taiwan, which has almost the same geographic size and population as Sri Lanka, which had 225 members until 2005, now has only 133 legislators equivalent to one legislator for over 179,000 citizens.

It is not just the ratio of population to number of legislators that is important. Sri Lanka’s legislators are supported by the wealth created by ordinary citizens. A deputy is supported by approximately 95,000 citizens. The actual number of wealth-creating citizens of the country that supports them would be much lower. In comparison, a parliamentarian in India, China and Japan represents over 1.7 million, 482,000 and 178,000 citizens respectively. The true cost of maintaining a parliamentarian in Sri Lanka can only be guessed at, but there is no doubt that it is extremely high compared to the country’s income levels. Members of Parliament hold the best jobs in the country and lead luxurious lives. Not only are they supported during their mandate, but also for life, if they obtain two mandates. That’s a pretty big burden on citizens, and the only way to reduce the per capita burden of supporting legislators is to reduce their numbers. There is also the saying that “too many cooks spoil the soup”. A reasonable number would be around 100 with electoral boundaries based on districts and/or provinces, the details to be determined by the Elections Commissioner. The primary objective should be to reduce the workforce.

Another related issue is the lack of checks and balances in the governance structure. Under the bicameral system, which Sri Lanka had before 1971, a bill had to pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate before it could become law. Under the current unicameral system, any law can be enacted if the ruling political party wishes, whether or not it benefits the citizens. There are no checks and balances. Many countries around the world have bicameral systems to provide checks and balances in the governance structure. It would therefore be prudent to reintroduce the Senate, or an equivalent system, composed of members chosen from divergent sections of society, who have proven their credibility and acceptability in society, with integrity, honesty, intellectual capacity to judge what is right and what’s wrong on any issue. They should be selected rather than elected by popular choice. These two issues need to be addressed as a matter of priority, not only for the above reasons but also, rather unfortunately, the status of parliament has been seriously degraded.

These two changes for a better, more efficient and citizen-oriented system of governance require amendments to the current Constitution by referendum. Either way, this must be done as a matter of priority, before the next general election, as any postponement will entail the burden of sustaining the 225 incumbents of the Diyawanna Palace for at least five years. All patriots are therefore invited to promote this idea and to push for the next stage of system change, whether the Aragalayacampaigned for.


Mount Lavinia


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