Threshold Essential to Check Maladies of Proportional Election

By Narayan Prasad Ghimire, Kathmandu, July 18: Amid differences over various issues, the Constituent Assembly finally brought the preliminary draft of new constitution.

Whether it was because of the disaster or of the feeling of unprecedented public responsibility, the major four political parties- ruling Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML and major opposition UCPN (Maoist) and a Madhesi centric party stood together this time. Some political parties were uninterested while some grew irate and protested the draft constitution, tearing its copies in the very CA meeting hall, while the draft was tabled and passed by the majority of the members.

The draft is now in the public domain for feedback. The CA members are attending the discussions with the people in their constituencies. With this, media outlets are abuzz with flurry of comments and criticisms from various sectors. The issues ranging from citizenship, press freedom, electoral system, national animal, right to reproductive health, naming and demarcation of provinces, constitutional court, inclusion to the syntactical frame are raised as burning issues in the debate and discussions again.

Picking one of the burning issues, electoral system is unavoidable. Proposing a mixed electoral system, the draft constitution has provided sixty percent seats for first-past-the-post while 40 percent to be selected from proportional representation system. In view of the recent experience in the two assemblies, the proportional electoral system is unwise. In the name of inclusion, such provision would not result in what we have expected. Before elaborating further bitterness, the background of proportional electoral system is worth mulling.

Yes, Nepal is one of the diverse countries in the world in terms of language, culture and ethnic communities.  It was true that there was meager representation of the backward castes and ethnic communities, Dalit, Muslim and remote regions in the mainstream politics and other state mechanisms.  The women were ensured 33 percent (of total members) in the first Constituent Assembly in 2008. However, the percentage slightly declined in the second CA in 2013. Anyway, there is sizable number of members from women, Dalit, Muslim, Madhesi, and other indigenous communities who are considered marginalized. The inclusivity adopted through the proportional electoral system was lauded much in the national and international arena. Not only that, the inclusiveness adopted in the form of governance through the election also affected other state mechanisms. It obviously hugely benefitted the marginalized communities.

On the other hand, we have bummer experience with the adoption of the proportional electoral system for these two CAs. The CAs, which also functioned as the Legislature-Parliament, got many incompetent persons. Interestingly, many CA members from the proportional quota in the first CA were illiterate and they had to be made literate by the international organizations. Similarly, other sizeable numbers were industrialists, boosters and relatives of political bigwigs. It not only made active political leaders lazy but also brewed unhealthy competition among the parties. Numbers of political leaders either shied away from the direct election, fearing the defeat in the FPTP election, and losing in FPTP would again lose the proportional quota. So, from the very initial phase, they pressed the party leadership to ensure their seats in the proportional quota.

More worrying is no provision of thresh hold in the FPTP to check the proportional election. Many countries adopting the proportional electoral system has devised certain percentage of threshold so as to minimize the problems of the proportional election. Many leaders from within the ruling parties have suggested the draft constitution include the provision of threshold. To buttress here, Shekhar Koirala of the Nepali Congress has demanded the threshold of five percent, while Shankar Pokhrel of the CPN-UML has demanded it three percent.

Election is one of the pillars of democracy. A functioning democracy needs periodic elections. Free and fair election helps ensure other actors in a democratic system. Only the absence of rigging does not mean the election is fair and meaningful. A meaningful election should pick representatives who have apt political vision and quality leadership. Election is not mere representation and selection. As the parliament is not the collective of tinkers, the election should be a judicious omission and sieving of incompetent politicos.

Importantly, Nepal is not holding the CA again for amorphous humongous body of representatives which were mere quantity representation lacking quality and competence. Yes, the political parties got excuse for these large bodies of the representatives, but Nepal now needs quality representation which would help make government stable. Mere constitution is not solution, we need durable governments and stable politics. For this, election should be ideal not unorganized. How ludicrous and agonizing it was for us to elect the prime minister while the prime ministerial candidate had to fight for seventeen times, but it vain. If this history repeats, where is stability?

Conclusively, it is fair to say that we need threshold of five percent to check the maladies and malaise of the proportional electoral system. RSS

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