In alliance with Kathmandu University (KU), Nepal Constitution Foundation (NCF) organized recently a roundtable discussion on the recent electoral outcome (Constituent Assembly elections) in Nepal. The main focus of the discussion were the “review and analysis” subsequent to the completion of the CA elections in 2013and reconciliation of the anomalies inherent in the current elections in contrast to the previous election in 2008.
In addition, the program sought to provide an empirical study on the results of the recently conducted CA elections and highlighted the challenges that lie ahead. The discussion was attended by members of the KU Steering Committee,newlyelected members of the Constituent Assembly, faculty members from Kathmandu University, law advocates, academicians and staff members from NCF. The chief speaker of the program was electoral expert. Kare Vollan.
Following a welcome note by Dr Surya Dhungel, Program Convener (NCF), the program was initiated through Vollan's presentation on the “review and analysis” on the recent electoral outcome in Nepal. Subsequently, a discussion was held with the members involved raised concerns and soughtKare Vollan's expertise on national and comparative electoral issues.
Kare Vollan initiated summarizing the composition of the CA and its electoral process in Nepal. There are, in total, 601 members elected as the members of the CA; of which 240 are elected through First Past the Post (FPTP) system; 335 members are elected from the Proportional Representation (PR) system; and the remaining 26 members are appointed internally through consensus among the political parties. The voting procedure comprises of citizens voting in two ballots: one pertaining to the candidates in FPTP and other pertaining to the parties in PR ballots. It is the same procedure as evident in 2008 elections.
Subsequently, Vollan highlighted the inclusive requirements in the CA as per the provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). As per the CPA: "In order to end discriminations based on class, ethnicity, language, gender, culture, religion and region and to address the problems of women, Dalit, indigenous people, ethnic minorities (Janajatis), Terai communities (Madhesis), oppressed, neglected and minority communities and the backward areas by deconstructing the current centralised and unitary structure, the state shall be restructured in an inclusive, democratic and forward looking manner." Criticizing the lack of coherence created through such provisions, Vollan stated that the drafters of the CPA had not thought this through and, in doing so, neglected the complexities it introduced. The problem, according to him, was that there were no clear data on the actual number of Dalits, indigenous people, ethnic minorities (Janajatis), Terai communities (Madhesis), oppressed, neglected and minority communities. In addition, the 2001 census registered 100 groups, none of which explicitly categorize themselves as dalits, janajatis or madhesis creating difficulties in the mapping process for their inclusion into mainstream politics.
Vollan then went on to the provisions for inclusion for women. According to him, since half of the Nepali population comprises of women, efforts were initiated in establishing a 50 percent representation of women in the PR system in 2008. In addition, Vollan, citing the prohibition in invoking minority rights at the discretion of the individual, criticized the provision in the Nepali electoral system that compels the individual to disclose his/her identity prior to running for elections. This, according to him, is in contradiction to the international provisions. Moreover, he advocated that an individual should be able to decide whether to invoke his/her rights belonging to a certain (minority) group or as a general person.
Subsequently, Vollan presented a statistical comparative review in terms of different groups represented at the CA: in 2008 and 2013. In 2008, there were 30 women and 7 Dalits elected through the FPTP system. In contrast, in 2013, there are 10 women and 2 Dalits elected through the FPTP system. However, the PR system would incorporate the excluded groups in, more or less, the same ratio as its mandatory. Similarly, the remaining 26 appointees would consist of 5 women, few janajatis and some outstanding personalities who are needed in the drafting process including party leaders who have lost the elections.
In terms of selections, Vollan presented that there were a total of 4,914 nominated candidates for FPTP, out of which 1,115 were independent candidates and 667 (13.6%) were women candidates. Similarly, there were 122 parties contesting for elections under the PR system. This, according to Vollan, was a very high number. Vollan voiced concerns in regardsto the sheer number of political parties as it would create complications and confusions among voters. In addition, Vollan criticized the lack of transparency and accountability inherent in the PR election systems.
According to him, under a standard PR system, the names of the nominated candidates are ranked providing the voters with a clear idea as to the person they are voting for. However, in Nepal, the PR list is not ranked and subsequent to the elections, the matter of fielding candidates is sorted out by the party leaders. In this regard, the system lacks transparency and accountability. The only other country to employ this closed PR list system is Serbia, and we know that it is not particularly known for upholding the highestdemocratic standards. Moreover, this system has also created two classes of candidates withinthe CA: the elected members under the FPTP and the elected members under the PR system. The FPTP elected members, arguing that they were elected by the people as opposed to theparty leaders under the PR system, sought to assert their superiority.
Subsequently, Vollan went on to discuss the election turnouts. In the current elections, there were a total of 12,147,865 registered voters in the FPTP system. A total of 9,516,724 (78.3%) valid votes were registered in the FPTP. However, 471,826(4.96%) votes were registered as invalid. In the PR system, a total of 12,249,062 voters were registered, of which 9,778,703, (79.82 %) valid votes were registered and 312,841 (3.20 %) invalid votes were registered. Mr. Voller acknowledged the high percentage of voter turnout and suggested lack of awareness of election procedure as the possible reason for the registered invalid votes. Under the FPTP systems, 10 parties won seats in the CA and 2 won as individual candidates. Under the PR systems, 30 parties won seats. All the parties winning FPTP seats also won List PR seats so the total of parties in the CA was 30, plus the two independent candidates. In List PR there were 10 one-seat parties. The lowest share to win a seat was 0.22 %, the same as in 2008.Criticizing the high number of marginal candidates unable to garner substantial votes, Mr. Vollan advocated for a system to allow only "serious" parties to contest elections. "Serious" parties in this context meant nationally represented political parties that had a decent amount of representation and could acquire substantial election votes.
The main challenges, according to him, wasthe possibility ofparties boycotting the CA. In light of the allegations made by the UCPN Maoists in regards to poll irregularities, there is a strong concern that Maoists and other dissenting parties would be reluctant to join the CA. Subsequently, there is the issue of implementation of inclusiveness and the proper adherence of the mandatory provisions as per the Interim Constitution, 2007.
Following Vollan's presentation, the members involved raised concerns and sought Mr. Kare Vollan's expertise on national and comparative electoral issues. Dr. Bipin Adhikari, Chairperson NCF, raised concerns as to the hotly debated topic of threshold requirements for political parties, in light of the ordinance brought forward by the President, and sought Vollan’s views on the potential impact of such provisions on the electoral outcome for political parties. Similarly, Mr. M.P. Saud, newly elected CA member, highlighting the current nature of the current electoral system, stated the different levels of accountability inherent in the two systems: In light of this, CA member Saud outlined the incompatibility of current electoral system with the equal opportunity principle and advocated for provisions to counter the disparities within the two systems, in regards to the accountability, and create a superior democratic electoral system. Furthermore, MP Saud requested Vollan to present his views as regards to the imbalance between the nominations under the two systems, i.e. 240 elected under the FPTP as opposed to 335 under the PR system, and access the current electoral system’s viability for future elections.
Vollan, addressing the issues raised, highlighted the abundance of research available on alternative electoral methods. He further mentioned that one such book is being published under the tutelage of UNDP and is due in the market next week. Furthermore, Vollan provided that one alternative to the current representation system could be to nominate a provincial candidate lists rather than exaggerated national list pertaining to the whole country. So, hypothetically, when a party wins 100 seats then there is a scientific method of distributing such seats into provincial lists.
In terms of threshold, Vollan was in agreement for a threshold provisions to allow for a more organized representation system. In germany, there is a 5% threshold (quite high), however, in Nepal the lack of threshold system has allowed for a lot of smaller parties to get into the election fray. According to Voller, the sheer number of parties does not mean the election system is more democratic; rather, it causes confusion and complications among the voters. He advocated for a threshold system (around 1-2%) to filter out the parties unable to garner adequate votes and, thus, abolishing the chaotic political culture.
Ganesh Datta Bhatta, Associate Professor NLC, highlighting the peaceful election process and high voter turnout, seemed optimistic as regards to the timely drafting of the constitution and institutionalization of democratic norms. In addition, Bhatta sought Vollan's opinion on the UCPN Maoist's allegations regarding the irregularities in the vote registering and counting process. Similarly, Anup Acharya, NCF, inquired about the difference in numbers as regards to the registered PR List votes and the FPTP List votes.
In addition, Acharya sought Vollan's expertise in establishing the rationale or mechanism in allocation of seats under the PR List system in relation to the votes acquired. In addition, Dr. Ramesh Dhungel, Professor, inquired about the social aspect of the electoral results. Citing the drastic changes in votes for revolutionary parties, in contrast to precious CA elections, the current elections upheld the status quo maintained by the traditional parties. In light of this, Dhungel sought Vollan's expertise on similar instances around the world. Further, B.P Bhandari, NCF, raised concerns as to the possibility of instability created through the current CA election system as it is designed in such a way that parties are unlikely to acquire majority votes. In light of lack of co-operation and trust among parties, Bhandari inquired about the way to deal with such challenges in the future.
Vollan, in response, was reluctant to comment on the allegations brought forward by the UCPN Maoists. However, Vollan stressed that, if there were such irregularities and there are clear evidences, then the matter should be pursued in the courts. Alternatively, Vollan advocated for the vote counting to take place, as common with international practice, in the polling stations rather than at a different location. According to him, the storing and counting of votes at a different location diminishes the credibility and transparency of the electoral system and raises the likelihood of fraud. In addition, such a procedure would require adequate transfer facilities, security, and logistics unit, rigid protocols on sealing ballots, electricity and other added expenses. Furthermore, Vollan highlighted the room for improvement as regards to the transportation and counting of vote ballots.
In regards to the disparities among voters in the two different systems, Vollan highlighted that this was due to the displacement of the voters in different constituencies. In additions, election officers, security personnel on duty during the polls were only allowed to vote in the PR List, hence, creating the disparities in the number of votes pertaining to the two systems. In addition, Vollan stressed the use of internationally accepted methods to convert votes into seats. According to him, robust scientific methods were used in order to ascertain the ratio of number of seats from the votes registered. In terms of government formation, Vollan stressed the prevalence of coalition government under this system. However, citing examples such as England and India, where coalition governments have been successful, Vollan was optimistic about the future prospect of parties working together towards a common goal in a coalition government in Nepal.
In addition, Phurpa Tamang, Advocate, criticized the provisions under the current electoral election systems that allow party leaders to contest from two different constituencies. According to him, this is highly undemocratic system.
In response, Vollan stressing the prominence of PR list system, as one of the most commonly used electoral systems in the world, advocated the merits of a ranking based PR List system. According to Vollan, the main problems in Nepal are the unique provisions of an unranked closed PR List system which is in contradiction to prevalent democratic norms. In addition, citing political immaturity as a possible hindrance to the institutionalization of democracy in Nepal, Vollan criticized the sheer number of parties represented at the CA elections.
According to him, there is a clear lack of political structure and identity. As a result, there were more than 120 parties with different ideologies contesting the elections. “No country in the world needs that many parties and it does not mean that the more parties there are the more democratic the election process” he confessed. In fact, this, as has been mentioned above, creates confusions and complications among voters and creates uncertainty in the institutionalization of democratic goals. In terms of leaders contesting for two constituencies, Vollan stressed his disapproval for such practices.
However, alternatively, he provided that, in order to protect the leaders, they could be allowed to contest in one constituency in the FPTP system and also in the PR List. It will reduce the costs pertaining to re-elections if the candidate wins from both constituencies, as evident in these elections, and provide an acceptable alternative to the current discriminatory package.
Finally, Dr. Bipin Adhikari, in relation to the topic of dual candidacies, further criticized the undemocratic provisions of allowing party leaders to contest from two different constituencies under the FPTP system. In addition, Dr. Bipin advocated that, in case of a leader winning the election from both constituencies, subsequent to that particular leader accepting his seat from one of the constituencies, the runner up from the other constituency should be allowed to take the seat that the winning leader has chosen to discard, rather than go for re-elections. This, according to him, would discourage the practice of dual candidacies and provide a pragmatic way out of a difficult situation. In response,Vollan disagreed with the idea of Dr. Adhikari citing the possibility of a different electoral outcome in case of a different candidate contesting the polls. However, he did accept that the provision could provide a possible method to discourage dual candidacies.
In conclusion, Vollan acknowledged the ranked PR system as a highly democratic electoral norm widely accepted around the world. However, he highlighted the lack of uniformity in Nepal as regards to the ranked PR system. Subsequently, Vollan advocated for Nepal to adhere to the prevalent democratic electoral systems and incorporate the ranking based PR list methods to establish a transparent, accountable and democratic electoral culture.