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Need for change
-Leena Rikkila Tamang

The Proportional Representation system needs to be reformed, not abandoned
Kathmandu, 09 Jan
Nepal reformed its electoral system for the first Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in 2008 with a first-past-the-post (FPTP) and proportional representation (PR) system. And it opted to keep this system unchanged for the second CA elections held in November 2013. A parallel system-combining the elements of the FPTP and PR list is quite common globally
countries like Thailand, the Philippines and Timor Leste follow this system. What is ‘unique’ about Nepal’s electoral system is that political parties do not need to provide the order of the candidates before the elections. This practice is only applied in two countries in the world, Nepal and Guyana in Africa.

Flawed design
In 2008, in the aftermath of the peace agreement, the system seemed to work relatively fine. All parties selected their candidates in good faith and the electoral quotas were largely accepted as a way of ensuring inclusion in the CA.
This time round, the selection of the PR candidates by the political parties has proved to be a difficult task and the cause of party splits, voicing of dissenting opinions, resignation of leaders and cadres from the parties, attacking and padlocking party offices and overall dissatisfaction from various corners. Claims have been put forward about nepotism and corruption and about party leaders undermining the agreed criteria while selecting the candidates. Voters also have a right to know who is likely toThis get elected while voting for a particular party. Overall, the problem is not the PR system but the way it was designed. And this flaw in the design can be reformed as proposed by many analysts and experts.

The candidates can be put in order by primaries and internal party procedures. There are several ways to do this, and at best, the order should be created through internal voting processes. If that is not possible for some reason, a designated party candidate selection committee could do so and stick to the agreed criteria by respecting the existing laws on quotas, etc.

To counter the prior ordering of candidates, political party leaders argue: how can you make a party worker placed last in the list work for the party? One could argue, in case you claim to stand for the values of the party of your choice, then you should be able to support that party no matter what. Also, there are more than 200,000 elected posts at the local level, waiting to be fulfilled.

Elections in federalism
In a federal setup, Nepal will need to elect representatives at the federal, province and local level. As per the preliminary drafts of the constitution prepared by the first CA (2008-2012), it looks like a majority of the political parties were in agreement about the list of powers assigned to each level. It might make sense-when many competencies related to implementation of health, education, employment, development etc are allocated to the province and local level-to apply different systems at different levels, and the list PR (only) for the federal parliament. Each province could be one constituency and there could be electoral quotas to ensure inclusion.

There are two kinds of mixed system: the parallel system that Nepal is now following and a mixed member proportional system (MMP). MMP systems also use two elements (one of which is list PR), with the difference that the PR element compensates for any disproportionality arising under the plurality/majority or any other system. For example, if one party wins 10 percent of the vote nationally but no district seats, then it will be awarded enough seats under the PR list to bring its representation upto 10 percent of the seats in the legislature. Voters may get two separate choices/two ballots as in Germany and New Zealand. Alternatively, voters may make one choice, with the party totals being derived from the totals for the individual district candidates. The names of the list PR candidates are published before hand and in order.

Reforming the FPTP?
There are also ways of ensuring inclusion within the FPTP system, even if quite difficult in case several diverse communities need to be included. Some women groups have been mulling over a possibility of reserved constituencies as way of ensuring women’s representation. In this system, there will be women-only constituencies, preserving the element of multiparty competition and somewhat following the Indian model of reserved constituencies for scheduled castes and tribes. But how would one choose the reserved constituencies without someone inevitably feeling deprived of a constituency? In order to avoid a political fight, there could be extra constituencies where two or more constituencies are combined-as was done in Uganda-or there could be more than one person elected from one constituency. However, including a number of quotas for various groups is more difficult in the FPTP than it is in list PR or mixed systems.

The parallel system, including the list-PR, was designed in 2007 in order to manage conflict by ensuring representation from all major parties and

in order to ensure social inclusion, which had been lacking from all previous legislature/parliaments. The system produced the desired results in terms of proportionate and inclusive representation, without the ‘winner takes all’ results. The presence of Dalits increased from zero to 13 percent and women from eight to 33 percent.

Even when only less than 10 percent of the FPTP candidates were women, and 10 won their constituencies, thanks to the quota in the list PR, the overall percentage of women will be close to 30 percent. The system has many good elements and it is possible to correct the flaws in it. The final decisions are of course for the new CA to make.

Rikkila Tamang is Regional Director, Asia and the Pacific, International IDEA, based in Kathmandu.
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