Direct election System that works best

The Constituent Assembly (CA) has formed a data-processing unit constituting its honourable members, who have set out to collect the common people’s suggestions on the new constitution. The Constituent Assembly members have embarked on this task after compiling the provisions agreed upon by them. In any democratic constitution, there are provisions for the election of the highest posts of executives and the legislatures to suit the political needs of the country. Political parties in Nepal, as they have accepted representative democracy, have one commonality regarding direct election to the legislative body, despite their disagreement on the electoral system for different posts. Since an individual cannot take decision for others, true representatives are chosen through elections.

The elected representatives are authorised to govern the country with periodic renewal of their legitimacy. In the direct electoral system, there is a direct relation between the elected and the elector. The elected gain political strength through popular mandate and legitimacy. As Nepal has been declared a republic, the system through which the president will be elected has to be decided upon. The current president has been elected on the basis of First-Past-the-Post (FPtP) system of election by the members of the CA. Two crucial questions therefore need to be addressed for the election of the president under the new constitution — the choice of the electoral system and the constituency of the election. Countries including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Kiribati, South Korea, Mexico, Palestine, Panama, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Tunisia, and Venezuela have accepted FPtP electoral system for their presidents. This system is simple, economical and efficient. The issue of the constituency assumes even greater significance.

The president has to represent the entire nation as the head of state and/or head of the government. The president can represent the nation either through a direct or indirect election. The president exercises his power depending upon the political function vested on him by the constitution. If a president is supposed to act as the executive head of the government as well as of state, he has to be elected directly. When a president is to be elected as the executive head of state, there is often a strong normative and practical preference for a system that ensures a victory by an absolute majority. More than 75 countries, including France, most Latin American countries, all five post-Soviet Central Asian republics and French speaking colonies, several other European, African and Asian countries that have direct presidential elections, use a Two-Round System (TRS).

There are a number of adaptations to straight majority run-off and majority-plurality rules. However, it requires a second round of voting if majority is not acquired in the first round. It puts extra burden on the exchequer of the country in conducting an extra round of election.

In Sri Lanka, to elect the president, who is both the head of state and the government, Supplementary Vote System is used in which voters are asked to mark, not only their first-choice candidate, but also their second and third choices indicating numbers —1, 2,3 as being done under Alternative Vote and Single Transferable Vote Systems. This system eliminates the need of the second round of voting in case majority is not acquired in the first round. It is unmanageable in the countries where voters are mostly illiterate.

In the United States, its presidential election is conducted through FPtP at federal state level. The winner in each federal state, except Maine and Nebraska, gains all the votes of that state in an electoral college. The Electoral College then elects the president by absolute majority. Sometimes, it leads to a situation in which the winning candidate polls fewer votes than the runner-up, as happened in 2000. Interestingly, in India where parliamentary system prevails, the president is elected through an electoral collage consisting of members of parliament and of the state Legislative Assemblies on the lines of FPtP.

A prime minister, who discharges his duty as the head of state and the government, makes presidency redundant. If the Prime Minister is elected directly, the relation between the legislature and the PM, like that of a president, will be problematic as both will rightly claim

equal popular mandate and legitimacy. It will be very difficult to decide about the merit of direct elections of a president or a prime minister and the legislature simultaneously in a system. On the other hand, the expense incurred also has to be considered, as two nationwide elections would definitely cost more money. It can be managed simultaneously for some time, but not always. Ultimately, these two elections have to be conducted separately.

Prof Mishra is former election commissioner