A country cannot be democratic until its citizens have the opportunity to choose their representatives through an election. Periodic election is one of the key components in the process of democratic representation. To strengthen democracy, the election system adopted by the nation should be free and fair. Election is merely not the process to choose candidates but a powerful tool to express opinion, promote sense of belongingness and encourage political debate and dialogue. In other words, a fair and free election is the medium to express public opinion, select leadership, provide legitimacy to government and make government accountable to the electorate.
Through their voting rights, sovereign citizens make their representatives accountable to their past decisions and actions and give them an opportunity to express the mandate for the future government. Globally, there has been continuous change in the form of electoral system with the passage of time. There are various types of representation in practice in the world. Different factors determine the form of electoral system that any country adopts. The type of governance system and the level citizens’ awareness matter the most.
The most common systems include the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) and the proportional representation (PR). FPTP or simple majority system is such an electoral system in which citizens of a constituency cast votes for the candidate, whom they wish to represent them in the parliament. On the other hand, PR is the system of election in which people cast their votes directly to a political party. Some countries use FPTP alongside PR in a parallel way. Some countries elect their legislature through PR and the head of state via FPTP system.
Nepal has gone for the FPTP system since the establishment of democracy in 1959. In the elections of 1991, 1994 and 1999, all the political parties followed the constitutional provision to have five per cent reserved seats for the candidacy of women. This encouraged the participation of women to some extent. But the result was not so encouraging. The FPTP system renders all the power to the ultimate winner though the vote cast in favour of him/ her is less than 50 per cent of total votes polled. Hence, the FPTP system is like winner-take-all-the-power. Undoubtedly, the stereotype election system cannot make the representation of minorities. The PR system was thus introduced to allow the representation of majority as well as minority.
As it is a system that allocates seats to the political parties in proportion to the votes they receive in an election, it builds the ground for participatory development and inclusive democracy. This system is based on the principle that votes should not only be counted but weighed, too. Advocates of PR system say that the FPTP system can never form any representative legislature. If so, the voice and choice of the marginalised communities or groups are never addressed. When losers have no any stake in the democratic process, the institutionalisation of inclusive democracy becomes almost impossible. The prominent requisite of inclusive democracy is the inclusive legislature.
Election is also the matter of relationship between the state and citizens. The PR system attempts to reduce all forms of disparity in the nation in order to enhance the sense of ownership and feeling of belongingness in two ways. First, it guarantees the representation of the marginalised community, religion, caste, gender, farmers, labourers and the people with disability. Second, it respects and evaluates every vote of the sovereign citizens. Besides, the PR system discourages the play of money and other irregularities that are carried out in the name of election.
The proportional electoral system is one of the major achievements of people’s movement in 2006. After the Janaandolan-II, the principle of inclusion and representation was internalised through the Interim Constitution which introduced the quota system for traditionally underrepresented or excluded groups. The first election of constituent assembly in 2008 included the provision of PR in which 335 members out of 601 were elected through this system. The same provision got continuity in the second Constituent Assembly, too. The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 has also embraced this electoral provision. Yet, the volume of PR has now been reduced as compared to election of constituent assembly. In both federal and state assemblies, 40 per cent of members are elected under the PR system.
In this way, we have completed the journey of nearly one and a half decades of mixed electoral system in order to make legislature inclusive. The PR system we have been adopting has faced the criticism from the time of its introduction. However, there are many examples of violation of the spirit of the PR since the election to the first Constitutional Assembly. The misuse of this system seems to have increased even more during the federal and provincial elections of 2022. It is sad to note that the party leaderships appear to have accorded top priority to the family members of leaders. In the name of indigenous communities, the people who are from the elite family are picked up. The same applies with women and other minorities.
Introduction of any system does not matter until it brings constructive and sustainable reforms. The CPN-Maoist Centre, which claims to have fought and sacrificed for inclusive democracy, has also followed the trend set by the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. Was it only the buzzword for popularity or the real agenda for the change? If so, will the PR system of Nepal fulfil the aspirations of the people who struggled for bringing this system?
As a key component of inclusive democracy, the PR system has been manipulated as the tool to retain the kin and kith in power. It has been also used as the magnet to attract the businessmen to politics. Such a manipulation of the PR system has not only enhanced favouritism and power play but also caused a sense of distaste among citizens towards the system itself. The way the PR is being exercised, is converting the tool of inclusion as the tool of exclusion. This is gradually pressing the minority and the weaker sections of society into even more margins.
(Sangita is a Section Officer of Nepal government.)