Constituency Delineation Concerns
The government constituted the electoral constituency delineation commission just a fortnight ago mandating the panel to produce report fixing the electoral constituencies for impending federal and provincial elections which need to be conducted not later than third week of January 2018. The commission, headed by former justice Kamal Narayan Das, comprises of the four members representing different disciplines as prescribed by the constitution of Nepal 2015. As the commission has been given three week’s deadline to submit report to the government, the commission’s task has been rendered burdensome and fraught with difficulties and challenges.
In fact, the subject of electoral constituency delineation is very delicate, and it demands that the commission be competent and technically versatile in its assigned tasks. Moreover, its work should be transparent and open to have the political stakeholders and actors an access to information on its working procedures and modality in addition to the report it comes up with as the result of it accomplishment .
However, the way the commission has been compelled to rush to produce the report it is left with no time and opportunity to engage with the political and social stakeholders to assure them of its impartiality, independence and objectivity. Moreover, as the commission is seemingly under pressure to execute its mandate within the given time line keeping the exigency of the federal and parliamentary elections into account, it has not been able to benefit sufficiently from interaction with the experts and civil society stakeholders both at the centre and local level and eliciting their inputs in ensuring that the report it produces has high degree of acceptability and legitimacy.
In fact, there was a relevant and fruitful initiative undertaken last week on behalf of Democracy and Election Concern Nepal (DECoN), a broad-based national alliance of the civil society organisations working, especially in the area of democratisation of state and society, citizen empowerment and electoral integrity through hosting a deliberative platform where the national and international experts on electoral constituency delineation had participated. The sole objective of the platform was to generate ideas and inputs relevant to the competence of the Electoral Constituency Delineation Commission that is working hurriedly for submission of the report to the government within three weeks’ deadline.
In the dialogue, moderated by former chief election commissioner and DECoN chair Neel Kantha Uprety, Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav had inaugurated the dialogue amidst a function participated in by a critical mass of chosen stakeholders and discussants . In his remarks, Dr. Yadav had set the tone of the deliberation and highlighted, among others, the importance and also the sensitivities and challenges involved in the task of constituency delineation. Likewise, former chairman of Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC) Balanand Poudel made presentation on key issues, opportunities and challenges of electoral constituencies delineation which was critiqued by Professor Bhim Subedee from Department of Geography, Tribhuvan University and Dependra Jha, advocate at the Supreme Court.
Moreover, Mr. Shabir Ahmed , Regional Governance Expert, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) shared his reflections on International principles and practices of electoral constituency delineation with particular reference to the provisions and practices in the South Asian countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. The Dialogue had made some pertinent recommendations as inputs to Electoral Constituency Delineation Commission (ECDC) in Nepal.
The commission, as outlined in the DECoN recommendations, is advised to uphold and adhere to principles of impartiality, transparency, representativeness , non-discrimination and equality while executing the process of electoral constituency delineation . In this context, it is also important that the working rules and procedures of the commission be clearly established and publicised. Moreover, for the sake of making its working transparent, responsive and open, the commission is also suggested to disclose and make the draft report of the constituency delineation public. This can allow space and opportunity for stakeholders to scrutinise and, provide feedback and suggestions on the document so as help the commission to correct its shortfalls and shortcomings.
What is important for the commission to make its report more legitimate and acceptable to all stakeholders is that it should define a clear cut system to register complaints in regard to delineation and disseminate information related to this system through appropriate media. This can contribute to ease the stakeholders to register their concerns and complaints, if any on the issues of the delineation. The commission is needed to chalk out a process and mechanism for handling such complaints and share about it with political parties, civil society organisations, media and other relevant stakeholders.
In addition to it, the interests and aspirations of minorities and marginalised groups of the people living across the country need to be leveraged and safeguarded while delineating the election constituencies giving due regard to their concentration in certain areas for enhancing their political weightage and importance. Moreover, the commission has the need to work in pursuance with mandate and provisions of the constitution and make its working meticulously open to the stakeholders so that unsubstantiated speculations and concerns are averted.
Moreover, consideration should be given to population and transportation convenience, geographical specificity and communities of interests as outlined in Clause 286(6) of the constitution. Any designs to electoral constituency gerrymandering need to be guarded against under all circumstances for ensuring complete fairness of the process. As the commission ‘s work has to endure and stay valid for the coming twenty years and its recommendations cannot be questioned in the court of law, it has to work giving thought to long term perspectives with clear foresight and positive anticipation.