Election and governance Can we tread the middle path?
Alexander Pope states,”For forms of government let fools contest, whatever best administered is best”. Definitely, we are not fools but we do not want to be fooled either. We are neither interested in self-introspection nor want to learn from others. Since our own interests, political dogmas govern us, it would be better to deliberate upon the form of government for building a new democratic Nepal in which the interests of all are served and especially of those who had been marginalized for centuries.
One of the contentious issues for the CA to decide is related to the selection of the form of government. There are three major views. One is advocating for directly elected presidential government. Second is for parliamentary system and the third is for directly elected prime minister.
Interestingly, political parties differ on the electoral system as well. Some parties prefer Mixed (Parallel) System that was adopted for the last CA election, some like Proportional Representation System and some yet demand for Multi- Member Constituency system.
With regard to these two issues, experts too appear to be divided. It is because they consider these two separately. If these two issues are considered together, there will be no difficulty in patching up the gap existing between the opposite views. First, in a democratic system any form of government is invariably elected by the people, is it a presidential system or a parliamentary system. Secondly, power and functions of any institution is transferred from one institution to another to meet the needs of any nation. As it is not necessary to follow the traditional pattern of any governance in toto, these two can be mingled together to suit our requirements and bridge the gulf between the divergent views.
It is always embarrassing to have two directly elected highest institutions -a president or a prime minister and a legislature. When one institution claims superiority over another on the basis of the people’s mandate the administration gets paralyzed at times. Secondly, a nation-wide election of president dilutes the accountability of the highest institution and the relation between the elector and the elected is not strong enough to bind them.
If we have to elect the president/PM, and the highest legislative body directly, these two elections can be conducted at a time for some time but not always. Any general election is not only a costly affair but also a tedious task before the administration to conduct single-mindedly. The security concern is also paramount. If it was 220 million for 1994 elections, it was about 350 million for 1999 election. The total expenditure for the CA election came to 2500 million approximately. Although, the cost of an election can be minimized, and money does not matter much for election in a democracy, it is a point to be considered, as the nation has to conduct provincial elections and local body elections too at some intervals in the future.
It is a truism that our past experience with parliamentary system was not happy. The first of 1959 was nipped in the bud by the then King in eighteen months. The second experiment of the last eleven years (1991 to 2002) was too discouraging due to the failure of the political leadership, which could not manage the intra-party affairs tactfully. Parliamentary system has succeeded in providing stable governments in many countries than any form of the government; of course, there are exceptions.
Accepting the trend of instability in parliamentary system in Nepal, if we can have some changes in the system to have stable government like choosing Prime Minister by the majority of votes in the elected House or the leader of the party securing majority in the House and dismissing an incumbent Prime Minister by a two-third majority (as in the case of the speaker), the PM’s post will be stable and he cannot be easily removed or pressurized by the members of his own party even. Secondly, if the elected House is not allowed to be dissolved by the PM at his will: and contrarily, the elected House can dissolve by itself, such provisions will definitely bring stability of the House. Making him free to choose his cabinet from outside with the approval of the House can make the Prime Minister more effective and he will be insulated from the political pressures from his own party members as well.
Similarly, some powers of the president can be modified, such as, by restricting his power to dissolve the elected legislature at his will, national army to be deployed and managed by a security council, appointments made by him to be approved by the House, major and vital decisions to be made by him to be approved by the House within two months of his decisions, and judiciary to be allowed to function without his or House’s interference. Such provisions may be acceptable to those who oppose the presidential system. The amended form of each system will definitely be acceptable to its opponents in the interest of the nation.
Prof Mishra is former election commissioner