Election 2020
Opinion and Analysis

EXPLAINED: Sri Lankan parliamentary electoral system -

For the 225 seats in Sri Lankan parliament, 196 MPs were elected from 22 multi-member electoral districts. The remaining 29 seats were allocated to contesting parties and independent groups in proportion to their share of the national vote. These 29 seats is called National List.

The Parliament has 225 members, 196 of whom will be elected through popular vote while the remaining 29 will be picked from the so-called National List.
Sri Lankan Parliament
The Parliament has 225 members, 196 of whom will be elected through popular vote while the remaining 29 will be picked from the so-called National List.

06 August, 2020 | 07:38 a.m.


Sri Lanka is often referred to as Asia’s oldest democracy. We are the oldest democracy in Asia in terms of universal suffrage. In 1931 with Donoughmore Constitution, every adult citizen in Sri Lanka was given the right to vote. It was the only constitution in the British Empire (outside the "white" dominions of Australia, South Africa and Canada) enabling general elections with adult universal suffrage. For the first time, a "dependent", non-Caucasian country within the empires of Western Europe was given one-person, one-vote and the power to control domestic affairs.

Fast forward to 1977, the SLFP government was deeply unpopular, and the United National Party headed by J. R. Jayawardene won the 1977 general election by largest landslide in Sri Lankan history (due to the first-past-the-post system). They were able to secure 140 of the 168 seats in parliament, almost five-sixths of the seats. The SLFP won just 8 seats, to become only the third-largest party in parliament. The Tamil United Liberation Front, who won 18 seats became the Official Opposition in The parliament. J. R. Jayewardene became the Prime Minister. Immediately thereafter, he amended the constitution of 1972 to make the presidency an executive post. The provisions of the amendment automatically made the incumbent prime minister himself president. And he passed a new constitution on 31 August 1978. The new Constitution promulgated on 7 September 1978, provided for a unicameral parliament and an Executive President. The Constitution also introduced a form of multi-member proportional representation for elections to parliament, which was to consist of 196 members. By the Fourteenth Amendment in 1988, the number of Members in parliament was increased to 225 with appoint of 29 National List Members.

Allocation of Seats ( Selected vs Elected)

With current electoral system196 MPs were elected from 22 multi-member electoral districts using the Largest Reminder Method also known as the Hare quota. The remaining 29 seats were allocated to contesting parties and independent groups in proportion to their share of the national vote. These 29 seats commonly known as the National List.

Elected MPs

From the first 196 seats, 160 seats were divided among the 22 electoral districts proportionally with respect to the registered voters in each district. However, The remaining 36 seats were equally divided among the 9 provinces. In other words, 4 additional seats were given to each province in addition to the number of seats allocated from the proportional distribution. according to article 95 of the constitution, the Delimitation Commission is the authorized body to decide which district gets how many seats. In 1978 Commission decide to allocate those seats as follows,

  • Central Province - Kandy 1; Matale 1; Nuwara Eliya 2.
  • Eastern Province - Ampara 2; Batticaloa 1; Trincomalee 1.
  • Northern Province - Jaffna 1, Vanni 3.
  • North Central Province - Anuradhapura 2, Polonnaruwa 2.
  • North Western Province - Kurunegala 2, Puttalam 2
  • Sabaragamuwa Province - Kegalla 2; Ratnapura 2.
  • Southern Province - Galle 1, Matara 1; Hambantota 2.
  • Uva Province - Badulla 2; Monaragala 2.
  • Western Province - Colombo 2; Gampaha 1; Kalutara 1.

This province-based allocation leads to a non-proportional distribution of seats among the voters. The value of a single vote in a less populated area is greater than the value of a vote in a densely populated area.

Here is the district-wise distribution of seats in Sri Lankan Parliament for General Election 2020,

No District Seats
1 Colombo 19
2 Gampaha 18
3 Kalutara 10
4 Kandy 12
5 Matale 5
6 Nuwara Eliya 8
7 Galle 9
8 Mathara 7
9 Hambantota 7
10 Jaffna 7
11 Vanni 6
12 Batticoloa 5
13 Digamadulla 7
14 Trincomalle 4
15 Kurunegala 15
16 Puttalam 8
17 Anuradhapura 9
18 Polonnaruwa 5
19 Badulla 9
20 Moneragala 6
21 Ratnapura 11
22 Kegalle 9

**This years election is conducted according to the reversed 2019 voter register. According to the new register, one MP has been reduced for the Galle District, while one has been increased for the Badulla District.

Who gets how many?

According to the constitution number of seats each party wins for an electoral district is decided by the Largest Reminder Method with a 5% minimum limit and a bonus seat.

5% minimum limit

No party or an independent group with less than 5% of the vote in an electoral district will be eligible for seats. The balance of valid votes are reckoned for allocation of seats on the basis of the proportional computation.

The Bonus Seat

In each district, the political party or independent group securing the highest number of votes is entitled to a bonus seat. Even if a party is “highest” by just one extra vote, it gets a bonus seat.

The balance number of Members is declared elected on the basis of the proportion of votes obtained by the political party or the independent group.

Preferential voting

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution introduced a system of preferential voting to determined list of candidates who are qualified to sit in the parliament since all these candidates contesting under an open list. Each voter is entitled to indicate his\her preference within the list of candidates of the political party or group to which the vote is cast. Three such preferences could be indicated on the basis of the number assigned to a particular candidate. Once the number of seats each party gets is finalized, The counting of preference votes takes place at the second stage of the counting process. The List of candidates who gets the highest number of preferential votes declared elected to the parliament from within each political party.

Selected MPs (The National List)

The National List comprises 29 members who will enter parliament without having to contest in the election. The number of national list seats each party gets depends on the proportion of their share in the national vote. If a party gets 100/29 ~= 3.45% of the national vote they are guaranteed to have a national list seat. But parties with slightly less than 3.45% vote share could end up winning a seat. Because there are lots of small parties in Sri Lankan elections polling less than 1% with a few thousand votes. The vote share of those parties amounts to a small percentage of the national vote and that makes it possible to party which is polling close to 3.45% win a seat with a lesser number of votes.

Even though the national list was introduced primarily to bring in experts and professionals from various fields into the parliament, The lack of clarification offered by the 1978 constitution makes the general security of a political party the final decider on who gets to the parliament from the national list. The former president Maithreepala Sirisena best demonstrated this by hiking the General security role of SLFA and nominating seven defeated candidates for the parliament in their final list.

Finally here is how main political parties in Sri Lanka positioned in the parliament after each election since 1994.


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