Ensure Early Polls

Yuba Nath Lamsal: Former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan said, "Democracy must be more than free elections, but it is true that it cannot be less". Periodic elections based on adult franchise ensuring free choice of the voters to elect their representatives is a basic tenet of democracy without which we cannot even imagine democracy let alone practice it. At the same time, election alone does not guarantee democracy.

Democracy and elections

It is true that democracy is more than election. But election is the heart and soul of democracy. Election for the sake of election does not ensure democracy. Elections should be free, fair and impartial enabling the voters to vote without any fear and apprehension. Not all elections are free and fair. Even dictators hold the election seeking legitimisation of their own authoritarian regimes. But such elections are often engineered and manipulated for which people and parties in power misuse authority to bring the election results in their favour.  Such elections do not reflect the real feelings of the people. Even Sddam Hussein of Iraq used to hold elections in which his Baathist Party would get more than 95 per cent votes. There are similar cases in other parts of the world in which elections are held, but they have hardly reflected the genuine feelings of the people.  Such elections are not genuine election, but mere attempts to deceive the people and the international community.

Even in the newly emerging democracies of the developing countries, all elections are not totally free and fair. But there is no other alternative. Free and fair elections are also part of democratisation process. Democratisation process does not complete overnight, but takes a long time, patience and energy. So free and fair election is closely linked with the process of democratisation of the society and institution building endeavours. As our democracy is getting mature so is our electoral and election process.

Regular and periodic elections allowing people to freely choose their representatives are a key prerequisite of democracy. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the will of the people expressed in the periodic and fair elections should be the source of authority in a state. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also states that the right of the citizens to vote and be elected is the fundamental human rights. Several other international instruments have clearly stressed the need for free and fair election on periodic manner to ensure representative democracy and people's participation in the political process and decision-making.

Nepal is a signatory to these international instruments by which it has expressed its full commitment to democracy, human rights and free elections. Nepal has adopted a fully democratic constitution ensuring inclusive representation of the people in its political decision-making process.  In the process of ensuring representation of all sections and sectors of the country, the constitution of Nepal, which was adopted in 2015, has made the provision of two types of electoral systems. One is the 'first-past-the post' system and the other is the proportionate representation.

Under the first-post-the-past system, a candidate, who gets the most votes, is elected. This is the system in which the winner takes all, while the losers will lose everything. In such a case there may not be fair and judicial representation of communities that are hitherto unrepresented or under-represented. The proportionate system has been adopted to do away with this malaise and ensure representation of all sections and sectors.

But both systems have their merits and demerits. The first-past-the-post system is the one that has been in practice in Nepal since long.  According to critics, the first-past-the-post system does not ensure representation of all sections and sectors. Moreover, this is the system under which the losers will have no representation at all. In view of these demerits of the first-past-the-post electoral system, the proportionate election was devised which seeks to ensure representation of all sections in the political decision-making process.

It is said that none loses in the proportionate electoral system, but all win. The parties get the representatives based on the votes they secure in the election. It ensures the representation of all kinds of ideologies, parties and section on the basis of popular votes. So this election system ensures representation of all the contesting parties. Its proponents call the proportionate system as the most democratic and representative electoral system. Critics are of the view that this system creates political instability in the country. The marked demerit of the proportionate electoral system is that there is likelihood that this system may always produce a hung parliament with no single party securing majority in the parliament to form the government of its own. In such a case, governments are always fragile and unstable. Similarly, parties have to come together to form the government in the absence of a single party having majority and it, as also seen in Nepal for the last one-decade, creates the ground for frequent change of the governments. This demerit is more particularly felt in developing or newly emerging democracies in the world, including Nepal.  However, this is the problem only in the developing countries. The proportionate election system does not have any problem in the developed countries.

In Asia, Israel has been successfully practicing this system. Similarly, the Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway) and some other European countries have the proportionate election system and they have absolutely no problem. The proportionate system of election is perfectly working in the developed countries and has built a good coalition culture. But the problem is only in the developing countries because democratic culture has not fully developed. Democracy is a system which seeks to build co-existence, collaboration, cooperation and compromise. The proportionate election system also promotes cooperation and collaboration among the political parties, ideologies and interest groups.

Limited Options

In Nepal, elections are round the corner. Three elections need to be held within the next one year. In practical sense, three elections will have to be held within the next nine months from June onward. The Election Commission has sought at least four months to make preparations after the election dates are announced. That means election cannot be held until May end if the election was announced now. Moreover, there are other conditions which determine the timely elections. Given the climatic condition of Nepal, elections may not be held during the monsoon or rainy season (June to early September). Soon after the rainy season is over, the festival season begins. Thus September and early October, too, may not be practically feasible to hold the election. Elections, therefore, need to be held either in June and early July or from mid-October to early December. The time from late December till March is practically not appropriate to conduct the election due to severe winter.

 Given this situation, we have very limited options to hold the election. But elections are possible even within limited time options if the government, the political parties and the Election Commission work together seriously. Elections are a must to institutionalise democracy and implement the constitution. Thus, the political parties are now required to shed their partisan differences and clear all legal and political hurdles to ensure the three levels of election by January next year.

 

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