Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli's dissolution of the parliament led many to wonder what could have been done to prevent such blatant abuse of power.
People have a genuine right to be apprised of all the parties standing for elections and their core ideologies, including their immediate and long-term plans for the nation. This should not be left for the people to decipher through already limited means. A government cannot justify its election based on the hands of the privileged few and the disenfranchised many
There is a conspicuous lack of choice for voters in Nepal.
Moreover, the nebulosity in the election laws also contributes to the system being unreachable for many. This begs the question: do voters even 'choose' who they elect to the parliament? When was the last time you voted, and how many people do you know who voted? This mystery surrounding the election laws is microcosmic to a more nefarious problem. This is why I will endeavour to answer why these questions are so difficult to answer and what could be done to make them simpler.
Many citizens are unaware of 'how' to vote. While like most things in Nepal, this could also be narrowed down to apathy on the part of the concerned bodies, such as the legislature and Election Commission of Nepal, it could be argued that the reason the election laws are not as accessible to citizens is that they do not 'want' them to be.
In other words, the laws are deliberately kept vague, esoteric and cleverly crafted to ensure that those in power remain so. Admittedly, a rather conspiracy theory-esque explanation, but given how little has been done to improve transparency in the elections, other conclusions seem less plausible.
Furthermore, many understandably lament that they do not vote because they do not find candidates worthy of it. But even having considered that, the idea is to be accountable to the 'democracy' and not the candidates-even if the pool of candidates reflects the worst of the worst, we must pick the best among this worst!
This notion is drilled into people from early on, but the brunt of successfully voting falls disproportionately on the citizens as compared to the concerned bodies. Those who do not vote are passively shamed for being lazy and made to feel that they have been utterly derelict in their duties to the nation.
We cannot blame the people for not wanting to physically apply for voter registration, stand in disorganised queues, undergo a multitude of paperwork and governmental rigmarole, and face the ever-so cordial nationally renowned government employees, just to be finally able to vote in an already incompetent lot. The resume of the candidates is already a massive disincentive for the voters, and the Kafkaesque system that follows is merely an addendum. Therefore, this shaming in reality is a means to distract people from the real problem: the concerned bodies are not effectively making it easier for people to vote. They are not being altered by those in power because not only is nobody interested in changing it, but there is also an element of active effortin making sure that the system remains the way it does.
Voting is a right under Articles 84(5), 176(5), 222(5), and 223(5) of the Constitution of Nepal in the Federal, State, Village and Municipal Assembly respectively for Nepali citizens above the age of 18 years. While enshrined as a 'right', one could argue that even 'access to voting' is a corollary to that right.
Moreover, this 'access' should not be limited to merely putting a system in place, but also adequate dissemination of information, ease of accessing the voting polls, employing technology to create electronic voter identities and a database system that automatically recognises and qualifies voters, and so much more.
There are nations Nepal could take inspiration from and on accountable ways of implementing an efficient electoral system. Belgium, for instance, made voting not merely a right, but a duty. Belgium's 'compulsory voter system' garnered over 87 per cent in its 2019 Federal Chamber Elections. Further, multiple elections in Belgium are aligned on one day to make it easier for people to vote.
Sweden, on the other hand, has ensured that voter turnout has never dipped below 80 per cent since the 1950s, while Nepal's numbers have dwindled to around 60 per cent.
The Swedish election commission has effectively employed robust information dissemination through Democracy Centres and Navigators that constantly formulate new ways to improve on the system, even at the risk of irking those who wish for it to remain the way it does.
Many of these improvements are ideated for deliberation by the said commission as opposed to any specific legal obligation upon the commission itself.
While the Belgian and Swedish electoral system may also not be the most ideal, as they may be fraught with their own complications, it certainly is inspiring in terms of representation and making the right (or duty) to vote more than a paper tiger.
Automatic voter registration based on the date of citizenship could be workable.
Other solutions include automatic notifications and reminders to vote, mail-in ballots and so much more. While replicating Belgium and Sweden might be difficult, and voting as a compulsory duty might not lead to the best results, legislators need to at least begin to re-think ways of improving representation.
People have a genuine right to be apprised of all the parties standing for elections and their core ideologies, including their immediate and long-term plans for the nation.
This should not be left for the people to decipher through already limited means. A government cannot justify its election based on the hands of the privileged few and the disenfranchised many.
Can we be fully certain that the outcome of this would be any different? We do not know. We could very well land in the same position as before.
However, at least, we will know that the parties represented would adequately reflect the voting population of the nation and collective conscience of a country and at least a 'more' legitimate government if not the most legitimate one.
A version of this article appears in the print on April 8, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.