Electoral system: Difficulties in implementation

A few days ago the Election Commission (EC) conducted a mock polling in Kathmandu Valley. It, at once, reminded one of the mock Parliamentary election conducted in Bhutan some months back. Bhutan is not a democratic country and the new ruler has to hold parliamentary elections in 2008 as per the wishes of his predecessor, anyhow — despite the fact that over 100,000 Bhutanese refuges have been putting up in Nepal for over one-and-a-half decades.

Interestingly, in Nepal’s context too, several million Nepalis live outside the country. Additionally, thousands were displaced due to insurgency and comparable numbers have set up at other places, if only for the sake of bread and butter.

Thus a considerable number of voters will be deprived of their right to vote in the historic Constituent Assembly polls.

Especially since no provision has been made in Election Act to include them in the election, nor has EC initiated any measure towards that end.

There are other similarities between Nepal and Bhutan. Like Bhutan, in Nepal one language one-dress policy was introduced during the Panchayat regime. Even the democratic Parliament had passed a resolution prescribing that the members of parliament should wear Nepali dress in the House. Ironically, in Nepal, every Madhesi is regarded as a non-Nepali. Similarly, the people of Nepali origin living in Bhutan are treated as Nepalis. It will be interesting to study whether Nepal resorted to Bhutanisation first or Bhutan adopted Nepalisation before that.

There might be good intentions behind the idea of mock polling. But what are

those intentions when the countdown to the poll day has already begun? Polling, as such, is not a new concept for Nepalis as even during 30 years of party-less Panchayat system, citizens were choosing their representatives through ballots from the village right up to national level.

It is assumed that the Election Commission must have benefited immensely from mock polling at Dakshinkali. It is important to keep in mind that CA elections are to be conducted on Mixed Electoral System model, which has two components. A new system is being introduced in the form of List Proportional Representation system which has never been used in Nepal’s history of six decades of electoral exercise. The Interim Constitution and the CA Member Election Act has accepted a closed national list system for election for 240 seats. Under national list system, there will be a separate ballot for this component and First Past the Post System (FPtP). There will be constituency-wise ballot paper under FPtP, whereas under LPR, there will only be

one list for the entire country. In South Africa, there were 17 parties contesting elections under LPR. The size of the ballot paper was about six inches wide and about 18 inches long when only one Party’s symbol was printed in one line to make it convenient for illiterate voters to cast their votes in a proper manner.

At least 60 parties that have registered with the EC will be in the fray for CA polls. The EC has done a commendable job by registering them for contesting in the CA elections against the undemocratic intention of the eight-party alliance to put a barrier on smaller parties by requiring 10,000 signatures for registration with the EC. Interestingly, the Interim Constitution and the Election Act have kept all political parties represented in the present House beyond this barrier.

If we follow the South African pattern, the size of the ballot paper will be five to six feet long as the names and symbols of sixty parties have to be adjusted. If we decide to have two symbols printed in one line, the length of the ballot papers will be reduced to approximately three feet. One can easily conceive of the difficulty of an illiterate voter while looking for

the right party symbol, while even an average literate voter may take a couple of minutes to place the symbol of his/her choice. It is assumed that the Election Commission is helpless on this front, as it has no right to change the electoral law to overcome this constraint. There is

yet another constraint. Voters will take at least four to five minutes in casting their votes. It means fewer voters will be able to cast their votes in the allotted time as compared to earlier elections.

Hence, the only viable option is to increase the number of polling booths.

Surprisingly, the parties that advocate national list system under Proportional Representation are not taking these problems seriously. It appears that they are hardly serious about the CA polls. Keeping these difficulties in mind, the regional List System has to be adopted in place of national list system. Moreover, if elections are conducted without significant improvement in the deteriorating law and order situation in the country, the polls will be a total mockery of electoral process.

Prof. Mishra is ex-election commissioner