The Parliament of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (Sinhala: ශ්රී ලංකා පාර්ලිමේන්තුව Shri Lanka Parlimenthuwa, Tamil: இலங்கை நாடாளுமன்றம்) is the supreme legislative bodySri Lanka. It alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all other political bodies in the island. It is modeled after the British Parliament.
It consists of two hundred and twenty-five (225) members known as Members of Parliament (MPs). Members are elected by proportional representation for five-year terms, with universal suffrage. Parliament reserves the power to make all laws.
The President of Sri Lanka has the power to summon, suspend, prorogue, or terminate a legislative session and to dissolve the Parliament. The Speaker or, in his absence the Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees or the Deputy Chairman of Committees, presides over Parliament.
Parliament has the power to make laws, including laws having retrospective effect and repealing or amending any provision of the Constitution, or adding any provision to the Constitution.
The first legislature established in Ceylon was the Executive Council and the Legislative Council, which were established on March 13, 1833 according to the recommendations of the Colebrook-Cameron commission. The Executive Council was composed of the Colonial Secretary, the officer commanding the Military Forces, the Attorney General, the Auditor-General and the Treasurer and the duties of the council were advisory and the Governor of Ceylon, who presided over their meetings and consulted them but was at liberty to disregard their advice. At first it was made up of only British officials but later included native citizens. At the beginning 16, and later 49, members were elected for the Legislative Council, but a limited number of people were qualified to vote.
In 1931 the Legislative Council was dissolved and in its place a more powerful State Council of Ceylon was established with its 101 members elected by universal adult franchise as provided by the Donoughmore Constitution.
Prior to the granting of independence and the establishment of the Dominion of Ceylon on 4 February 1948, a new bicameral parliament was established in 1947, according to the recommendations of the Soulbury Commission after the State Council was dissolved. It was based on the Westminster model with an upper house, the Senate, whose members were appointed and a lower house of parliament, the House of Representatives, whose members were directly elected. The House of Representatives consisted of 101 Members (increased to 157 in 1960) and the Senate consisted of 30 Members, of whom 15 were elected by the House of Representatives and 15 nominated by the Governor-General of Ceylon.
The Senate was abolished on 2 October 1971. On 22 May 1972 when the republican constitution was enacted, the House of Representatives was replaced with the National State Assembly which had 168 elected members. This itself was replaced by the Parliament of Sri Lanka when the constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka was enacted in 1977.
In 1987, a grenade was lobbed into a conference room inside the Parliament complex where government MPs were meeting. Two people were killed and sixteen injured, but the target of the attack, President J. R. Jayawardene escaped unhurt. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna claimed responsibility for the attack.
On 20 August 2015, Two major parties the United National Party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party have signed Memorandum of Understanding to form the National Government in order to address major unresolved issue after the end of 30-year old ethnic conflict, This is the first time in Sri Lanka's political history that two major parties agrees to work in the joint government. The Presidential Secretariat announced that the Government will be functioning as joint (national unity) government comprising two major parties.United National Party leader who won the most seats was appointed Prime Minister
Members and elections
Of the 225 members, 196 are elected from 22 electoral districts, which are multi-member. The remaining 29 MPs are elected from National Lists allocated to the parties (and independent groups) in proportion to their share of the national vote.
Any Sri Lankan citizan may be elected to parliament unless disqualified to do so under the Article 90 of the Constitution, which includes;
- President of the Republic,
- Public officer, judicial officer or an officer of a public corporation,
- Member of the Regular Force of the Army, Navy or Air Force; with the exception of holders of the rank of Field Marshal,
- A police officer or a public officer exercising police function,
- Declared as an undischarged bankrupt or insolvent in terms of the applicable law,
- A person stands nominated as a candidate for more than one electoral district or as a candidate for more than one political party or group for the same district,
- A citizen of Sri Lanka who is also a citizen of any other country,
- A person adjudged guilty by a competent court or by a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry.
When Parliament first meets after a general election, it will elect three members to serve as the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees (known simply as the Deputy Speaker) and the Deputy Chairman of Committees. Whilst presiding, the Speaker or Deputy Speaker wears ceremonial dress.
Allowances and Benefits
- Basic salary
A Member of Parliament will receive a salary of Rs 54,285 paid monthly by the parliament, while Ministers, Deputy Ministers and State Ministers will receive a salary applicable to their grade from their Ministries.
In addition to the monthly salary, MPs are entitled to allowances. MPs who do not hold a Ministerial appointment, would receive an additional entertainment allowance of Rs 1000 and drivers allowance (if no driver is allocated by government) of 3000 per month. All MPs are entitled to an daily sitting allowance and committee allowance of Rs 2,500 each.
- Office expenses
Each MP is entitled to a monthly office allowance of Rs 100,000, telephone allowance of Rs 50,000 and transport allowance for personal staff of Rs 10,000 for 4 personal staff to office. At the start of each term an MP as an allowance to purchase office equipment such as a computers, copier and fax machine. They receive an annual free postage facilities worth Rs 175,000.
- Travel allowance
Each member is entitled to a fuel allowance based on the distance from parliament to their electoral district (Colombo 283.94l; Gampaha and Kaluthara 355.58l) and a duty free permit to import a vehicle under their name.
- Housing and vacationing
Members from constituencies from out side Colombo may receive housing at the Madiwela Housing Complex or an allowance to rend an house. In addition, MPs and their families have exclusive use of the General's House, which is a nineteen-roomed holidaybungalow in Nuwara Eliya maintained by the members' services office of the department of administration of the parliament secretariat.
- Other benefits
Members are entitled to subsidized meals members dinning area at parliament. Yyoung Members of Parliament without higher educational qualifications receive direct admission to the Sri Lanka Law College without setting for the entrance exam.
On the completion of a term, an MP becomes entitled to a government pension for life.
The Parliament Secretariat, headed by the Secretary General of Parliament, is in charge of all its administrative duties. Until 1972, the post was known as Clerk of Parliament. The Secretary General is appointed by the President, subject to the approval of the Constitutional Council. The Sergeant-at-Arms is responsible for the maintenance of law, order, and security on the House's premises and acts also as master-of-ceremonies. The Serjeant-at-Arms carries the ceremonial mace, a symbol of the authority of the People and of the Parliament, into the House each day in front of the Speaker, and the Mace is laid upon the Table of the House during sittings. Currently, the parliament secretariat administration is divided into eight departments.
These departments are;
- Department of Serjeant-at-Arms
- Department of Administration
- Department of Legislative Services
- Department of Hansard
- Department of Finance & Supplies
- Department of Information Systems and Management
- Co-ordinating Engineer's Department
- Department of Catering & Housekeeping
The Staff Advisory Committee (SAC) established under the Parliamentary Staff Act provides advice and guidance to the Parliamentary Secretariat with respect to matters concerning Parliamentary staff. The SAC consists of the Speaker (Chairman), the Leader of the House, the Minister of Finance and the Leader of the Opposition.
Secretariat maintains the Speaker's Residence and the Madiwela Housing Complex for MPs and the nineteen-roomed holidaybungalow for MPs, General's House in Nuwara Eliya. Parliament also owns Mumtaz Mahal which was the former residence of the Speaker and Srawasthi Mandiraya the former hostel for MPs. These are now used by other government entities.
Main article: Sri Lankan Parliament Building
Under the British Colonial government, when the Executive Council and the Legislative Councils were set up in 1833, they met in a building opposite Gordon Gardens, which is now the "Republic Building", occupied by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On January 29, 1930 the British Governor of Ceylon, Sir Herbert Stanley (1927–1931), opened a building fronting the ocean at Galle Face, Colombo, designed for meetings of the Legislative Council. It was subsequently used by the State Council (1931–1947), the House of Representatives (1947–1972), the National State Assembly (1972–1977) and the Parliament of Sri Lanka (1977–1981). Today the Old Parliament Building is used by the Presidential Secretariat.
In 1967 under Speaker Albert F. Peris, the leaders of the political parties unanimously resolved that a new Parliament building be constructed on the opposite side of Beira Lake from the existing Parliament at Galle Face, but no further action was taken. While Stanley Tillekeratne was the Speaker (1970–77), the leaders of the political parties entrusted the drawing up of plans for a new Parliament building to architects, but the project was subsequently abandoned.
On July 4, 1979, Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa obtained sanction from Parliament to construct a new Parliament Building at Duwa, a 5 hectare (12 acre) island in the Diyawanna Oya (off Baddegana Road, Pita Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte) about 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) east of Colombo. The island was where the palace of the King Vikramabahu III's powerful Minister Nissaka Alakesvara had been situated. It had belonged to E. W. Perera prior to being vested in the state.
The building was designed by architect DeshamanyaGeoffrey Bawa and built with Sri Lankan funds. On April 29, 1982, the new Parliamentary Complex was declared open by President J.R. Jayewardene.
Main article: 15th Parliament of Sri Lanka
Coordinates: 6°53′12″N79°55′07″E / 6.8868°N 79.9187°E / 6.8868; 79.9187
While the global average for Women in Parliament stands at 22.4%, India is at the 103rd place out of 140 countries with a mere 12% representation. Within Asia, India is at the 13th position out of 18 countries. Countries like South Sudan, Saudi Arabia have better Women representation in Parliament than India.
Women’s representation in elected bodies, Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies is a source of huge disappointment. As we observed in a previous article, women occupy just 66 seats in the 543 member Lok Sabha, which is a mere 12%. The scenario for women Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) across all state assemblies in India is even worse, with the national average being a pitiable 9%. The best among them, Bihar, Rajasthan and Haryana have 14% representation while the worst states are Pondicherry and Nagaland, which have no women MLAs at all.
This being the dismal scenario, we were curious to see how India held up against the rest of the world in women’s representation. We looked at data on women in national parliaments (directly elected lower Houses) across the world from the Inter Parliamentary Union, an international organization of Parliaments, to situate India’s position on this yardstick. The findings, while busting popular myths about many countries, also show us the mirror on how far we lag behind in giving women the level playing field to be part of the political decision making process and why we need to do more to improve the situation.
The 40 percent Group
It is encouraging to find some countries with a fantastic number of women MPs making up their Parliament. 13 countries in the world constitute, what can be aptly called the ‘40 percent group’ i.e women constitute 40% or more of the total seats in the National Parliament. Topping this group is Rwanda, where women MPs make up for 63.8% of the Parliament, outnumbering the men. Bolivia at 53% and Andorra at 50% achieve gender parity with equal number of men and women MPs. Another interesting aspect to note is that an overwhelming number of the countries that constitute this group are from Africa, followed by Europe and South America.
The global average for women in parliaments stood at 22.4%. While Europe surpasses the global average at 25.2%, Sub-saharan Africa has an average representation of 22.6%, Asia at 19% and the Arab states at 18%. The Nordic countries alone have 41.5% average of women MPs. 42 countries in the world have 30% or more women MPs in their Parliament.
Women’s representation in 190 countries can be explored in the interactive below by hovering the mouse. Countries with higher representation are colored green and countries with lower representation are colored red. Values range from 63.8% (Rwanda) to 0% (five countries including Qatar and Tonga).
India’s position in the world
So where does India figure in the world rankings? Way down at 103 among the 141 ranks listed for 190 countries that we have data for. That is hardly a position to be proud of!
But wait! The shocker comes in the form of surprise countries that figure way up in the rankings table. Algeria at 27th (31.6%), Iraq and South Sudan at 44th (26.5%) each, Saudi Arabia at 69th (19.9%) are some of the countries that beat India with considerable margin, where women MPs are concerned. Even Libya at 44th with 16% women stands way above India. The other surprising aspect is that the U.S. ranks a tad below Saudi Arabia with only 19.3% in its House of Representatives. These figures and rankings are surprising because these countries are either strife-driven, emerging from conflict or have severe restrictions posed on women in their societies. Yet, they fare much better in the spaces that women occupy in political decision making.
Even among the Asian countries [none of which figure in the top 20], India’s position is nothing to write home about. Out of the 18 countries that we have data for, India’s position is a dismal 13th, with countries like the Philippines (27.2%), Vietnam (24.3%) and Cambodia (20.3%) doing much better. Japan is a surprise laggard with only 9.5% of women MPs in its Diet.
Closer Home: South Asia
Disappointed by the grimness, we decided to zoom in further and look closer home in the South Asia region. Surely, India stands tall here, given it’s leadership and usually better record of democracy in the SAARC region? Turns out, no. Just one glance at the graph below tells us how far down we are in where women parliamentarians are concerned. Of the 8 SAARC countries, India’s position is a ignominious 5th. Nepal with 29.5% women leads the SAARC group, followed by Afghanistan with 27.7% MPs. Pakistan and Bangladesh at 20% each, ensure much better representation for women in their parliament. There is some catching up to do for India within the region to ensure gender equity in the highest elected body of the country.
Republic of Korea is represented as Korea.
BRICS: the emerging power pack
When SAARC offered no solace, we decided to look at the BRICS countries and India’s position therein. BRICS, the emerging power pack of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. India, here, stands 4th among these countries, with only Brazil with a mere 9% women, that fares worse than us. South Africa, which is among the top ten countries in the world in terms of the number of women MPs could perhaps offer some valuable lessons to the rest in the group.
Why do some countries fare better than others?
As these surprising findings on women MPs unfold before us, we are led to question as to why some of these countries have much higher women MPs than the others? What are they doing right? What spaces are they creating and what special incentives are being offered to create the level playing field for women to not just participate in politics but also to see themselves through the threshold of political decision making bodies. One of the most important provisions that almost all the countries with better women’s representation have ensured is to create constitutionally mandated quotas or reservation for women. Rwanda has 30% reservation for women as do most of the countries in the top 20. Closer home Nepal has 29% legislated quota for women, Afghanistan has 28%, Pakistan and Bangladesh have 20% seats reserved for women. Some European countries have voluntary political party quotas that encourage and ensure women’s participation in the political process.
Rwanda is a fantastic case study of how to do things right to get more women to the parliament. While it has 30% reservation for women at the Parliament, there is active participation of women at all levels right down to the grassroots. There is also special encouragement from the political leadership, starting from president Paul Kagame that has translated into women breaching the 30% quota limit and making up for almost 64% of the national Parliament. That is a heart-warming record for a country that is reconstructing itself post genocide. Indian lawmakers and political establishment could learn valuable lessons from Rwanda and take steps to correct the historical wrongs.
Data on women in Parliament from Inter Parliamentary Union
Data on quota for women in Parliament from The Quota Project
Data on women in Indian Parliament from Lok Sabha. IPU (data compiled as of 1st January 2015) reported 65 MPs while Lok Sabha has reported number of women MPs to be 66.
For consistency, axis representing Women Representation % in all the plots are truncated to 80% to notice the trends better.
About the Authors
Bhanupriya Rao is a open data and RTI campaigner who has been working in the area of transparency, accountability and governance. She is the also the founder of ‘Gender in Politics’
Bhanu Kishore Kamapantula is interested in open data and data science among other things.