Electoral system : Slight modifications can get results
It would have been a miracle if CA polls could have been held on Nov. 22 without implementing the commitments stipulated in the Comprehensive Peace Accord,
such as making public the status of people taken in government custody as well as the names and addresses of the people disappeared by both sides (and also killed during the war), returning land and property seized by the Maoists to the victims of the insurgency, constituting the national Peace and Rehabilitation Commission, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a high-level Recommendation commission for Restructuring of the state, verification of People’s Liberation Army (PLA), removal of combatants recruited after signing of ceasefire and proper maintenance of the PLA in their cantonments.
Ironically, the election has been postponed to sort out the differences on two issues — declaration of republic and the adoption of full Proportional Representation. Similarly, the Interim Parliament has been summoned to solve the political problems that need be solved by the seven party alliance outside the House, not inside it.
The clear mandate of Jana Andolan II was to establish a federal republican democracy in Nepal. Accordingly, there should not have been any hitch on the elected CA declaring the country a republic or even the Interim Parliament doing so. Similarly, the adoption of Mixed System or the full Proportional Representation system should not have been turned into hot issues as the present controversy can be solved by bringing slight modifications in each of the two systems.
It reminds one of Immanuel Kant, who, while propounding his critical philosophy for reconciling the two conflicting epistemological theories of Rationalism and Empiricism, asserts that both are right in what they affirm and both are wrong in what they deny. The Maoists are right when they insist on proportionality of votes and electoral seats. But, they are wrong when they deny the close relationship between the voters and the elected representatives. Similarly, the Nepali Congress leaders are right when they insist on the close relation between the voters and the elected representatives. They are wrong when they ignore the importance of proportionality of the votes received by any political party and the seats won.
The above controversy has been stretched far, threatening the very peace process. Ironically, the Interim Constitution (IC) has provided for Mixed Electoral system for holding CA polls without specifying about its two variants — Parallel system (PS) and Mixed Member Proportional system (MMP). Since the CA Members Election Act does not mention the adoption of MMP system, PS was adopted compulsorily.
In PS, First-Past-the-Post system (FPtP) and List Proportional Representation (LPR) system operate simultaneously and independently. Therefore, the greatest demerit of this system is the increased disproportionality in the votes translated into seats elected. The gap between
the votes polled by a political party and the total number of seats it gets in return is unbridgeable. But, in the case of MMP the gap between the votes received and seats won is bridged through compensation. Since this system too has two electoral systems operating simultaneously but dependently, the votes polled under PR component compensate for the loss the party suffers under FPtP component.
Keeping these facts in clear view, the Maoist demand of replacing the Mixed system with full PR system can be addressed if MMP system is accepted. Since disproporionality can be compensated in MMP, the final result will be proportionate — of course, not fully proportionate.
Moreover, there are some inherent demerits in LPR system as well. It should not be adopted with a national list in a country like Nepal, home to more than 100 castes and ethnic groups.
The national list system also makes for weak bond between the electors and the elected. Also, since the size of ballot papers sometimes becomes very big, it has to be shortened to facilitate the voter, especially, the illiterate ones in identifying their favourite symbols without wasting much time. These reasons warrant the adoption of Regional list system in place of national list system.
There should be 21 to 25 regions, purely for electoral purposes, each consisting of no more than 12 to 15 seats, which can be further lowered to 10 to 13 seats by clubbing together three to four small districts or two to three big districts. The regional boundary should be drawn based on language, ethnic composition, accessibility and development status of the area. The existing administrative boundaries of the districts will remain intact. Local people will be represented by those in their midst, thus giving political identity to ethnic and cultural groups. This will, indeed, be the first step towards state restructuring.
Prof Mishra is ex-election commissioner