Discontent Brewing Over PR Lists

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Like in other democracies, election cycle marks a significant political event in Nepal. At theoretical level, oodles of platitudes are offered in praise of poll, describing it as the soul of democracy. But this is also key moment that reveals the colour, character and motive of the political players intent on contesting and winning the elections at all costs. Come polls, internal life of political parties gets animated as they spend their energy in process of picking the candidates. At the same time, the leaders are engaged in constant one-upmanship, exposing their infinite penchant for power and weak moral ground.

At the moment, strong resentment is brewing inside all the political parties over the closed lists of candidates under Proportional Representation (PR) category submitted to the Election Commission Nepal. The leadership is accused of undermining the principles of PR as mentioned in the constitution. Relatives, factional supporters, sycophants and those who provide hefty donations to the parties have been allegedly awarded the PR seats. Those who fail to make it to the PR lists have also come heavily on the party leadership. Altogether, 40 per cent members of the House of Representatives are picked through the PR category while the rest 60 per cent are elected under the first-past-the-post electoral system. 

Inclusive democracy 

Proportional electoral system is a crucial political instrument aimed at promoting inclusive and participatory democracy under the new federal set-up. Article 84 (b) 2 of the constitution states, “The federal law shall provide that in filing candidacy by political parties for the election to the House of Representatives under the proportional electoral system, representation shall be ensured on the basis of a closed list also from women, Dalit, indigenous nationalities (Aadibasi Janajati) Khas Arya, Madhesi, Tharu, Muslims and backward regions, on the basis of population. In so filing candidacy, regard shall also be had to geography and regional balance.”

The proportional electoral system basically seeks to broaden the political participation to ‘ensure economic equality, prosperity and social justice by eliminating discrimination based on class, caste, region, language, religion and gender and all forms of caste-based untouchability.’ However, the parties have apparently given short shrift to constitutional vision and filled the PR lists with their cronies. The PR provision is for those who are socially and economically marginalised and need to be brought into the mainstream of politics and decision-making bodies. But seeing irrational bickering among the party leaders for getting their names included in the PR list, one may conclude that the parties have failed to embrace the spirit of the proportional representation that has been applied in state organs. 

One interesting example can be derived from the personal tussle between Pashupati Shumsher Rana and Dr. Prakash Chandra Lohani, two geriatrics of Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the party of former royalists. Rana and Dr. Lohani clashed over putting their name first on the PR list under the Khas Arya slot. The party resorted to a voting among the members of its top body - the Work Execution Committee – that elected Rana, which irked Dr. Lohani. Hailing from the aristocratic families, both are veteran Panchas and held the post of lawmaker and minister several times during the Panchayat and multiparty system. At this old age, they are expected to retire from politics and give chance to the young people, especially from the underprivileged classes. Ironically, they are still craving for the public position!

A section of functionaries in Nepali Congress, the largest constituent in the ruling coalition, has been agitated over its closed PR list. A faction, led by Dr. Shekhar Koirala, has organised a series of protests against the establishment for not incorporating the names from its side. NC central committee member Dinesh Koirala wrote a letter to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, arguing those having access to power, relatives, family members and financially secure persons have made to the PR list. The establishment finally agreed to negotiate with the disgruntled group. Despite establishment’s assurance of correcting the PR list, the Koirala faction is frightened whether its demand will be met. Some influential members of Koirala faction, including party general secretary Gagan Thapa and leader Gururaj Ghimire, have warned of revolt against the party leadership.

Discontent over the closed PR list has grown in the opposition CPN-UML, CPN-Maoist Centre, CPN-Unified Socialist, Janata Samajbadi Party and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party (LSP). In the UML, chairman KP Sharma Oli has emerged as unrivalled boss after the exit of his adversaries. Except Oli and his coterie, most of the leaders are kept in dark about the names of PR’s closed list. Some dissatisfied leaders have claimed that they will rebel against the leadership after the disclosure of the PR list. Former Maoist leaders, who stayed in the UML following the formal split of the then CPN, have lamented that they have been pushed to the wall in the party, and would decide whether or not to remain in the UML after the PR list is made public.

Injustice 

LSP top brass are seething after chairman Mahantha Thakur included his own daughter Minakshi Thakur and his own loyalists in the PR lists for the federal and provincial parliaments. Maoist Centre’s rank and file is not happy when the top leaders, vice-chair and former Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara have been proposed in the PR list. This has meted injustice to those disadvantageous classes, said the disgruntled cadres unwilling to speak out against the top leadership.

Expressing his disappointment of the party’s PR list, Unified Socialist vice-chair Mukunda Neupane, in a status on a social media, said: “We had revolted against Oli’s authoritarian tendency, not gaining personal post. What should cadres do when the party’s system and methods are violated by stooping below Oli’s style?” Under pressure from the cadres, the parties can change the name of PR candidates, the deadline for which is Sunday (October 2). However, they must respect the essence of PR system, not make it as a means to promote their hangers-on and relatives in politics.

(The author is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)

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