Proportional v mixed system : Future of Nepal on the line

The special session of the Parliament ended by giving a directive to the government to bring resolutions regarding proclamation of a republic and holding of Constituent Assembly (CA) election through a fully proportional representation (PR) system. Despite the directive, the problems, however, have not been solved. Some regard the directive passed by simple majority as not binding. But how can the government formed by the parliament and accountable to it, refuse to carry out its directive? The question is not whether to carry out the directive but how.

It is true that constitutional amendment requires two-thirds majority which would be impossible without Nepali Congress (NC) giving its nod. But amendment to interim constitution, if done, will not be for the first time. It has already been amended twice. If national interest would be served, the obstacle to the CA election removed and the seven party unity sustained, the amendment for the third time would not only be desirable but necessary.

Regarding the issue of republic, the difference between the contending parties lies in the use of the words ‘to implement’ and ‘to approve’. The Maoists want to implement the republican motion now and approve it later through the CA. The NC wants to approve the motion now and implement it by the CA. Regarding a fully PR versus mixed representation (MR) debate, it is universally accepted that PR is a better system for representation. Since the election is for drafting a constitution, maximum possible representation of all the diverse communities is indeed desirable. Owning up of the constitution by all the diverse communities will guarantee the constitution’s successful implementation.

The NC’s preference for MR finds justification on its acceptance by Seven Party Alliance (SPA) earlier and its inclusion in the interim constitution. But the interim constitution is not a sacrosanct document which cannot be amended. Anyway, holding CA polls is far more important than having MR system.

The argument that PR deprives people of personal liberty and undermines close

relation between voters and elected representative can be taken care of by adopting appropriate model of PR, as suggested by Prof. Khanal in his Kantipur (Oct. 9, 2007) article (PR along with single transferable voting system) or as proposed by Prof. Mishra in his Oct. 16 THT article (Mixed Member Proportional system, where first-past-the-post system and PR operate simultaneously and dependently) or any other acceptable model that emerges from discussions among SPA.

MR denies the proportionality between votes received and seats won. The NC in the last election received 36% of national vote but 55% of seats in the parliament. If NC has such an outcome in mind, such optimism is misplaced as well as unfair. MR system would ensure that the traditional ruling elites minus the king would maintain their hold in the CA. Adoption of PR would bring about fundamental changes in the composition of people’s representative body. The deprived, underprivileged, marginalised and excluded classes will get proportional representation. This is the very reason indigenous people, ethnic groups, Dalits, Madhesis, women and many political parties have supported PR.

Some traditional elites, irrespective of their political affiliations, feel threatened by PR and are expressing their opposition to it in various ways. The opposition is led by the NC. Arguments given against PR are: MR is already enshrined in the interim constitution; it deprives people of personal liberty and is hence undemocratic (suggesting many Western-European countries, including Denmark and Switzerland, with PR are undemocratic); it reduces close relation between voters and elected representative; and it will bring representatives of indigenous peoples, ethnic groups, Dalits, Madhesis and women unqualified to represent themselves! The real cause for the opposition, however, lies in the fear of traditional elites losing their hegemony.

Thus the ensing debate in a way is a struggle between traditional elites trying to maintain their dominance and the emerging force of indigenous people, ethnic groups, Madhesis, Dalits and women trying to find their appropriate representation.

The debate on PR versus MR is therefore not simply about electoral system. It is central to the political development in Nepal. The nature of the constitution will depend on the nature of representation in the CA and the nature of representation in turn on the electoral system adopted. Let us hope that the regular session of parliament will succeed in forging consensus regarding electoral system and monarchy and avoid confrontation and polarisation in the national polity. It is still not too late to come to an agreement through discussions among the SPA constituents and emerge with an acceptable model of PR — for change, for state restructuring and for new Nepal.

Prof Manandhar is a CPN-UML MP