Restructuring state : Parties on ethnic and caste basis

Besides the constituent assembly (CA) election, two issues have been raised for discussion — proportional representation as an electoral system and the state’s restructuring. The CA issue is now settled providing a solid ground for resolving the armed conflict as both the Maoists and the seven-party alliance have agreed to hold CA elections through the 12-point understanding. The constitution of a CA and its electoral system have engaged the attention of the intelligentsia, political scientists and parties including the Maoists, as most of them have submitted their suggestions to the Interim Constitution Drafting Committee, which will submit its draft shortly.

It is interesting to suggest that the number of elected members of CA should be 250 against 205 of the present strength of the House of Representatives (HoR) as there is an average growth of about 25 per cent of population every ten years. A sitting member of Parliament represents on an average 90-92 thousand people. Even if we accept the projected population as being 25 million in 2006 and accept one lakh voters to be represented by each elected representative, the total number of seats comes to 250.

Since all segments of society cannot be elected through a single electoral process, some other process can also be adopted. The last census enlists over hundred castes and ethnic groups that need to be included in this historic process. Hence 18/20 seats should be reserved for them and filled from those groups, which have less than 90,000 population by electoral contest through forming their political outfits or by the elected 250 members through single transferable voting system (STVS).

Keeping in view the role played by the civil society and other professional organisations in the people’s movement, 18/20 seats should be reserved for them also. Either their elected representatives can directly fill the quota or the members through STVS can elect their representatives. Areas like Karnali have some districts having less than 90,000 population. Hence 10 seats should be reserved for them. The elected members should elect these members through STVS. The state should nominate 5/10 members from disabled groups, marginalised sectors and from deserving persons for the CA. Thus, the total strength of CA will be 301 to 310.

Nepal used the First Past the Post system in 1959 in electing the HoR, and the same was used in three HoR elections and two local bodies’ elections after 1990. The majority of the population could not get any representations in the HoR. Out of 100 castes and indigenous nationalities, hardly 13 to 14 groups were represented. Women and marginalised communities like Madheshis were least represented and Dalits remain unrepresented.

It is commonly conceived that an inclusive CA, elected through a proper electoral system, will frame such a constitution that will result in inclusive government. It is a truism that no electoral system is a panacea for all ills. Every system has its own deficiencies. Every party is suggesting the List Proportional Representation System with a closed list for CA elections. In this system, each party presents a list of candidates to voters, which cannot be changed. Voters vote for a party, and parties receive seats in proportion to the votes received nationally or regionally. Winning candidates are taken from the lists in order of their position on the lists.

This system has one major demerit: it facilitates fragmentation of parties. The more parties will contest the election, the bigger the ballot papers. It would create difficulty not only for illiterate voters but for the educated ones as well. Hence there should be some practical restrictions on forming political outfits without sufficient mass base. Every party must have at least 500 voters as their members. There should not be any restriction on forming a party on the basis of region, ethnicity and cultural identity. Such a move will help the marginalised communities to be elected on the basis of their own vote bank and finally be represented in the CA.

The issue of choosing an electoral system cannot be postponed whereas the issue of state structuring can be shelved till a CA is elected and a new constitution framed. Since this issue is being discussed seriously, it should also be addressed in the interim constitution.

It can be suggested that parties can be registered on the basis of regions and the ballot papers can be made accordingly so that the papers do not remain a serious problem for illiterate voters. The size and the number of regions should be determined in consultation with all the stakeholders. This will definitely ease the resentment of the people who are voicing their demands for autonomous regions or federal structure.

Prof Mishra is coordinator, National Monitoring Committee on Code of Conduct for Ceasefire