NEPAL: Diluted proportional electoral system

by Raksha Ram Harijan

The government has announced the date for elections in the Federal and Provincial levels, with the Election Commission (EC) deciding to conduct the polls in two phases: the Member of House of Representatives (Federal Legislative) elections will be held on 26 November 2017, and the Member of State Assembly elections will be 7 December 2017.

According to Article 84 of the Constitution of Nepal, the House of Representatives (HoR) consists of 275 members elected for a five-year term through a mixed parallel electoral system. Of these, 165 members are elected through the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) electoral system, with one member from each of the 165 electoral constituencies delimited based on geography and population. The remaining 110 members are elected through a proportional representation electoral system, which considers the whole country as a single electoral constituency.

According to Article 176 of the Constitution, each State Assembly shall consist of twice as many members as those elected to the House of Representatives from the concerned State through the FPTP system, which amounts to 60 percent. The other 40 percent are to be elected through the proportional electoral system.

The FPTP system has run its course in Nepal, and the new Constitution also adopted a proportional representation (PR) electoral system that would allow for the representation of minorities and smaller parties in the legislatures. Meanwhile, affirmative action in the form of reservation of seats for marginalized groups such as women, Dalits, indigenous people, Tharu, Madhesi and other disadvantaged groups, has ensured desirable outcomes in terms of representation, without sacrificing too much on inherent stability, as compared to proportional representation systems. There is a provision to include 50 percent women during the candidate selection and nomination in the PR system, and the political parties must ensure 33 percent reservation in total number of Federal Parliament members. To make it more effective, the 33 percent representation must be inclusive, including women from all castes and ethnic groups.

With the PR system, several members of Parliament are to be elected per constituency. Basically, every political party presents a list of candidates and voters can select from that to vote for a political party. Political parties are assigned proportional parliamentary seats according to the number of votes they get.

In the PR system, there could be two variations. In some countries, like Israel or Netherlands, the entire country is treated as one constituency and seats are allocated to each party according to its share of votes in the national election. The other method is when the country is divided into several constituencies, and each party prepares a list of candidates for each constituency, depending on how many have to be elected from that constituency. In both these variations, voters exercise their preference for a party and not a candidate. The seats in a constituency are distributed on the basis of votes polled by a party. Thus, representatives from a constituency would and do belong to different parties.

Internal voluntary party quotas for candidates in general elections are targets set by political parties to include a certain percentage of, for example, women or national minorities as candidates. With an internal and voluntary quota system, political parties can clearly demonstrate their willingness to encourage disadvantaged groups and to put the idea of fair representation and equal opportunities into practice – even in countries without legislated quotas.

Though, this provision tried to include candidates representing all castes and ethnic groups, there is a different trend in practice. Political parties nominate shady characters, and often sell candidates tickets to wealthy business persons for a good amount of money. Such practices are destroying the essence of the PR system.

At the same time, recently passed election related Acts are also diluting the proportional representative election system: the House of Representatives Members Election Act, 2017 and State Assembly Member Election Act, 2017. Both these acts defined the Brahmin-Kshetri (Khas-Arya) community as a disadvantaged group, and 31 percent reservation has been allocated for them in the PR election system, though the Khas-Arya are dominant groups in the establishment. This manner of keeping the marginalized at bay, including the Dalits, Madhesi, indigenous people, Muslims, and Tharus, has put the whole PR system in question.

The Acts have allocated 29.7 percent reservation for indigenous people, 15.3 percent for the Madhesi community, 13.8 percent for Dalits, 6.6 percent for Tharus and 4.4 percent for the Muslims. However, according to the 2011 Census, the total population of the Khas-Arya is 31.2 percent, while that of the indigenous people is 35.3 percent, that of Dalits is 12.6 percent, Madhesi 15.3 percent and Muslims 4.4 percent. The indigenous population is thus given less reservation then their total number.

The 2008 Constituent Assembly (CA) election elected 601 CA members, with 240 members elected through the FPTP, 335 through a proportional electoral process and 26 nominated by the cabinet. Only 30 women were elected through the FPTP. Women garnered 33.22 percent of total CA seats, and substantially increased their voice and representation. The previously under-represented Dalits have noticeably improved by scoring 8.17 percent; ethnic and indigenous communities have also enhanced their presence by receiving 33.39 percent of seats; Madhesis too scored 34.09 percent, backward regions 3.83 percent and other high caste and unspecified groups of people 33.91 percent seat representation. This is still considered a historical achievement, as the second CA election conducted in 2011 brought very different results and representations.

In the second CA election, the elected body comprised 7 percent Dalits, 34 percent Janajati, and 18 percent Madhesi representation. The remaining 41 percent belong to the category Khas Aryan and others. Under the FPTP system, only a single Dalit representative won election, compared to the seven representatives chosen in 2008. The second CA brought less number of representatives from the marginalized communities.

The recently conducted local body elections saw less than 2 percent women elected as Mayors/Chairperson. They were only limited to the post of Vice Chairperson and Vice Mayors. And only around 0.5 percent of Dalits were elected as Chairperson. This presents the sorry state of the proportional representation system in Nepal, which is exclusively designed to promote and include Khas-Aryas in the state apparatus, and to dilute the representation of other groups and communities.

In order to make the upcoming federal and provincial elections more inclusive, the Khas-Aryas should be excluded from the proportional representation system. It will not do any injustice to the Khas-Aryas, as they will be abundantly elected through the FPTP system. However, there is minimal chance for other communities including Madhesi, Dalits and women to win using the FPTP system, as they will be never nominated as candidates under the FPTP system. Another option is to allocate electoral constituencies solely targeting marginalized communities including Madhesi, Tharu, Muslims, Dalits, and Indigenous people.



Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-043-2017
Countries : Nepal,
Issues : Democracy, Freedom of expression, Human rights defenders, Legislation,