Wednesday, 19 January, 2022

Curate Politics Thru Election System

Curate Politics Thru Election System

Mukti Rijal

When the constitutive provisions to be enshrined in the federal constitution of Nepal had been debated intensively in the Constituent Assembly (CA) following its elections held in 2008, the choice of electoral system had been a major issue of contestation in the CA relevant thematic committee. Some parties, especially from the political left like CPN- Maoist which was a dominant force in those days, had pitched for executive presidency and multimember direct proportional representational system whereas Nepali Congress and CPN-UML had forged a last minute consensus, despite key differences, in favour of the constitutional president, executive prime minister and mixed proportional representational system. As no agreement was secured, the voting had taken place to choose the appropriate mode of elections. The thematic committee concerned was split into major two groups.

Among the 42 committee members, according to the report, only 38 turned up in the day of voting. Eighteen members had supported the proposal for directly elected executive presidency put forth by CPN -Maoist whereas 20 members voted against it.

Executive presidency
If we take note of the proposal put forth by CPN- Maoist, its main argumentation revolved around in instituting executive presidency to envisage that the president held the responsibility as the head of state and government. According to the proposal set forth then, the president could serve for five years and no single person could become president for more than two terms. Though there was a strong moot in favour of directly elected executive president, political parties settled on constitutional president, executive prime minister elected by the parliament and mixed member proportional representational system as mooted by Nepali Congress. The political parties, especially the erstwhile CPN-Maoist and UML, thus abandoned their long-held agenda and nodded with Nepali Congress on parliamentary model of government.

Looking at the election related provision of the federal constitution, it allocates 275 members for the House of Representatives (HoR) of which 165 elected from single member constituencies by first past the post (FPTP) voting and 110 elected through proportional representation (PR) where voters vote for political parties, considering the whole country as a single election constituency. The HoR, unless dissolved, continues to operate for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting. However, in a state of emergency, the HoR term may be extended, not exceeding one year in accordance with federal law.

Similarly, this type of mixed model electoral system has been adopted for election to Pradesh Sabha (State Assembly) in which some percentage of seats are reserved for proportional representation while others are provided for first past the post model euphemistically known as majority system. It is so provided that one seat for federal parliament is equivalent to two seats for Pradesh Sabha and the electoral constituencies are demarcated accordingly. This indicates that the state assemblies are allotted members in proportion to the number of seats for federal parliament in a district.

The constitution specifies that 60 per cent of the members should be elected from the first past the post system and the remaining 40 per cent through the party list proportional representation system. Women should account for one-third of total members elected from each party. In fact, two types of elections are instituted in Nepal. These are parallel mixed voting comprising FPTP and PR for federal parliament and state assemblies and the completely FPTP for local election.

The current mode of elections has been blamed for both creating political instability and also making the electoral contest very expensive. It is said to be responsible for fuelling corruption and misuse of the national resources. Recent political turbulence in Nepal, characterised by fight for crass political opportunism and power grabbing, shows that the major focus of the political stakeholders has been on the formation of the government in lieu of pursuing and delivering governance. Political party leaders and lawmakers are found mostly set their sight to amass resources through this or that means so that financing the next elections becomes easier and comfortable for them.

In fact, executive presidency was advocated to mitigate the festering problem of the political instability and governmental fragility in the country. Though in the parliamentary elections held around three and a half years ago, the Nepal Communist Party had commanded the support of almost two-thirds majority in the federal parliament, this could not guarantee and secure political stability and governmental continuity in the country. Like in the past, the country has been badly mauled due to the political instability and unabated bickering among the political party leaders. The frequent change in the set of the executive chief and ministers both at the federal and province level during these days has adverse impacts on governance and development.

Propitious solution
Today, there has been a critical constituency of intelligentsia, political leaders and civil society organisations in the country that sees the directly elected presidency as the propitious solution to the intriguing political instability and adverse ramification in the governance and development of the country.

As the agenda of the executive presidency was abandoned, with no convincing basis and reason, not very long back, its proponents had missed the opportunity to give the historic turn to the polity of the country.  In fact, as reported, when the political parties had been locked in the debate to choose the form of the government, there was a possibility of agreement among the political stakeholders on the presidential model of the government, had its advocates made a needed push and convincing advocacy for it. But, they compromised on this agenda and lent their support to the continuity of the parliamentary model. It shows that political leaders are short-sighted, and therefore, tend to make compromise on principles for short-term gains and benefits at the expense of long-term democratic political goal.

Again the same agenda has to be taken up and advanced to cure the maladies of political instability and electoral corruption but it will undoubtedly face enormous resistance as interests of the some group of political leaders is best served by the existing mode of elections.

(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow.