The Janamat Party was formed in Madhes more or less three years ago following the dissolution of the Alliance for Independent Madhes led by Chandra Kant (CK) Raut. Raut had signed an eleven-point deal with the previous government led by KP Sharma Oli agreeing to adopt democratic means to resolve existing issues renouncing his alleged secessionist strategy and machination. Raut led Janmat Party stole the political limelight, especially in the last parliamentary, provincial and local elections when it defeated the Janata Samajbadi Party leader Upendra Yadav and won impactful seats in both provincial and local governments.
During the last election campaign, Raut had expressed his commitment to control corruption and create job opportunities for the people. The groups who extended major support to Janamat Party are mainly the youths, members of the Dalit communities and those from economically poor and marginalised backgrounds. Projected as an alternative political formation in Madhes, the party is viewed as a competitor of Janata Samajbadi Party which is yet far known for its acclaimed representation of Madhesi people’s aspirations. What added value and credence to Janmat Party recently has been its demonstrated commitment to democratic and alternative version of politics. It started to implement a kind of approval rating exercise of its representatives with an aim to ensure that the office holders elected to the positions in local, provincial and federal levels deliver and respond to their constituents in a responsible and accountable way.
This is the first instance in the democratic practice of Nepal where the party members are given space to vet and rate on the performance of those elected to the government positions. Those who are not approved or fail to secure the required approval rating, they will be recalled to give way to the new round of election. According to the reports, most of the Janmat parliamentarians both in the federal and provincial levels have failed to win the prescribed approval rating and the party will take necessary decision on the next course of action. It is said that the recall is an important direct democratic device characterised by the practice of recalling officeholders who fail to deliver and act according to established norms and expectations. It is also an attempt to maximise the vigilance of voters thereby minimising the influence of political parties on their representatives.
Widely adopted in the United States, the recall is designed to ensure that an elected official acts in the interest of voters rather than in the interest of his or her political party. In the United States, the recall has been used successfully against various types of officials, including judges, mayors, and even state governors. However, in practice, the recall is not used extensively. Even in jurisdictions where it is provided for constitutionally, it has been used to remove governors in North Dakota in 1921 and California in 2003. Following a bitter partisan fight between Democrats and Republicans over the rights of workers to bargain collectively, Wisconsin experienced in 2011 the single largest recall attempt in U.S. history. Six Republicans and three Democrats in the 33-member state Senate faced recall vote, though only two senators—both Republicans—were defeated.
The recall provision rests on the premise that the sovereign power of the people was very real and this power was exercised on an ongoing basis even during the period in between the elections. George Washington, who was the first president of the US, wrote: “The power under the federal constitution will always be in the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes and for a limited period to representatives of their own choosing, and whenever executed contrary to their interest or not agreeable to their wishes, and undoubtedly will be recalled. It is to be noted that the Wisconsin state constitution clearly reflects and adopts the principle of an active popular sovereignty by creating unlimited right to recall elected officials.
Existing laws in some states of India also allow citizens to remove or replace public servants holding posts of local body chief, councilors and mayors in the government. The debate over the recall of elected representatives has a long history in the Indian democracy. The matter was even discussed in the Constituent Assembly. The debate was centered on the belief that the right to recall must accompany the right to elect and the voters must be provided with a remedy if things go wrong. However B.R. Ambedkar did not accept this amendment. While some members in the Constituent Assembly believed that recall would help in political education of the people and would encourage voters to think while others argued that it would be improper to provide a recall provision at the infancy of the Indian democracy. It was also felt that recall provision would render the constituencies a battleground between candidates and unnecessarily make them victims of political rivalry.
The provision of recall has been implemented at local body level in some states of India. The procedure of recall over chief of the local bodies is a two-step procedure which can be directly initiated by the citizens. After a lock-in period of one-two years varying from state to state, a certain number of voters of the Gram Sabha need to submit their signatures/thumbprints and petition. After verification of the signatures, a meeting of all the Gram Sabha members is organised and if majority of the Gram Sabha votes against the sitting local body chief. s/he is removed. The Janmat Party’s initiation to practice the right to recall is a very novel experiment in the Nepali multiparty democracy and it can contribute to bear pressure upon the elected representatives to respond to their constituency. However, the practice should include the voters, not the party workers alone. A representative who is popular with the party workers may not be liked by the voters. This exercise must include all legitimate voters in the constituencies concerned. This can help expand the voters’ base of the party.
(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow. email@example.com)