Electoral Mandate And Message

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Results of the November 20 general election are out. No single party has secured a clear majority to run the country on its own strength. The kind of outcome the election has produced is no surprise to all. A hung parliament had been a foregone conclusion even before the polls.

The Nepali Congress (NC) has emerged as the largest party in the House of Representatives (HoR), whereas the CPN-UML has secured the second position. The CPN-Maoist Centre is a distant third. A brand new party Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) has come up as the fourth force which is a great surprise for many. However, RSP’s sudden emergence has been greater surprise and also a threat to the main and established parties as they had earlier underestimated this party and misunderstood the mood of the voters. The other distinct feature of the election is the slight rise of the traditional Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) that demands to turn the clock of history back to the old monarchical era.

Hybrid electoral system

Everyone including the political parties had expected almost a hung parliament and triangular power equation in the HoR. This was so because of the electoral system we have adopted. Our electoral system is hybrid or a mix of the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system and the proportional representation (PR) method. Of the 275 seats of the HoR—the lower house of federal parliament, 165 are elected directly by the people under the first past the post system while the rest 110 are chosen based on the proportionate representation system. Under the duel electoral system, a single party majority will be a far cry. 

The FPTP system is in vogue in many countries in the world while a few countries do practise the proportional representation electoral method. Both electoral systems have their own merits and demerits. In the FPTP system, the winner takes all while the loser is deprived of everything. In proportional representation, all parties in contest get representation based on the votes they secure. In other words, none loses in the proportional representation system and all get the share based on their strength. Critics argue that proportional representation system has been a recipe for political instability with frequent change of governments in the developing countries and newly emerged democracies. It is often said that proportional representation system has been successful only in countries with higher education level, mature democratic exercises and better coalition culture. In some European countries especially in the Nordic Region, the proportional electoral system has worked well. Parties make pre-poll alliances and accordingly form the government after the election and such government, in most cases, lasts full term. 

There is a raging debate in Nepali civil society domain for and against the electoral system. Proponents of the proportional representation system want to make it fully proportional while its opponents seek to scrap the proportional system and go back to the FPTP model. It is true that the hybrid electoral system we have adopted is unlikely to produce a single party majority government and the coalition is a fait accompli. But this should not be construed as a recipe for political instability. Countries having proportional representation system also have maintained political stability and achieved high level of development. The Nordic countries are its testimony. It is not the electoral system but our political culture and attitude that are more responsible for instability in Nepal.

Nepal has adopted the present electoral system since the 2008 Constituency Assembly election. Until then, Nepal had FPTP electoral system and several elections were held under this system. But political stability was elusive. Moreover, some ethnic and other minority communities had felt marginalised, unrepresented and underrepresented. Their demand was fully proportional representation system to ensure their representation in all levels of decision-making. Proportional representation system was, thus, necessary, to address the voice of all communities and make our political system democratic and more inclusive. The Maoists took up this case and vociferously pushed for fully proportional representation electoral system while other parties were opposed to it. Finally, the hybrid kind of electoral system was agreed upon as a compromise between the seven party-alliance and the Maoists.  This is how the present electoral system was adopted after intense debates on its merits and demerits. 

Proportional representation system is not bad in itself. It is not desirable to seek its alternative at the moment. What has to be done is to discourage and deter the anomalies and misuse of this system by the political parties and their leaders.  

Popular expectations

Nepal’s democracy is relatively young and yet to take its roots. The country has witnessed a political upheaval and change almost in the period of a decade or so since 1951. Our democracy came under assault—mostly from monarchy and it was this reason why monarchy was permanently abolished. Nepali political parties are good at working together at the time of crisis. But once crisis is over, they often fail to continue this spirit. In the real politick, parties do not seem to have lived up to popular expectations and exhibit mature political culture. Power, position and perks motivate the parties and leaders more than their duty to build a better democratic culture and deliver services to the people. 

The recent election mandate of the voters is being interpreted as a public disenchantment towards the old and established parties. A section of the society is trying to create this kind of narrative. But in reality, this narrative does not hold much water. The established parties are still the largest three forces in parliament whereas a newcomer is just a fourth with merely 20 seats out of 275. People still have faith in the old and established political parties. The message of the voters is loud and clear that they are definitely not happy with behaviour and performance of the old and established parties but they are not seeking their alternative. People still want the parties to work better and in a more effective and transparent manner so that there would be better governance.  

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

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