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Time to Revamp Electoral System?

15 MIN READ

Time to Revamp Electoral System?

In delving into the annals of Rana regime in Nepal, one inevitably encounters the historical pages delineating its governance.

The genesis of Nepal’s electoral history finds its genesis in the elections conducted in Kathmandu under the decree of the then Rana Prime Minister, Padma Shumsher Rana.

On June 11, 1947, then Prime Minister Padma Shumsher Rana summoned the people of Kathmandu to partake in the process of electing their ‘representatives.’

After enduring over a century of centralized governance under Nepal’s unified monarchy, this modest democratic gesture from the ruling elite bestowed upon the citizens a semblance of participatory rights.

Yet, it remained a restricted privilege, tinged with the trappings of aristocratic rule.

Dubbed as ‘Municipal Election,’ this exercise, albeit limited solely to men, marked a watershed moment in Nepal’s political landscape.

Prior to this, the governance of the country was entrenched in monarchical authority, with hereditary rulers perceived as the de facto masters by the common populace.

Reflecting on the governance and electoral systems that have shaped Nepal’s political landscape, it is evident that the contours of electoral participation have undergone profound transformations over the past eight decades.

While the ‘municipal election’ fell short of embodying democratic ideals, it undeniably sowed the seeds for Nepal’s electoral journey.

This nascent electoral framework, albeit in its infancy, laid the groundwork for subsequent electoral processes within the nation bearing the same name, spanning nearly eight decades.

During this inaugural electoral foray, Kathmandu’s denizens, devoid of prior electoral experience, cast their votes pursuant to the directive to ‘choose their representatives.’

Notably, this electoral milestone occurred at a juncture when women were bereft of suffrage, a reality shared by many nations across the globe. Indeed, in terms of candidacy, leadership, and representation, Nepal found itself lagging behind by approximately seven decades.

The echoes of Nepal’s inaugural municipal election reverberate through the corridors of history, underscoring the imperative for an evolution in the electoral landscape.

As we reflect on this historical precedent, it becomes increasingly apparent that the time for reform within Nepal’s electoral system is not merely desirable but imperative.

Following the demise of Rana rule, a significant electoral milestone was reached on September 2, 1953, with the election to appoint the head of Kathmandu city.

Notably, this marked the inclusion of female voters in the electoral process, heralding a step towards gender inclusivity.

Four years later, during subsequent municipal elections, the surge in women’s participation was even more pronounced, indicating a growing trend towards gender parity in electoral engagement.

From the armed revolution spearheaded by the Nepali Congress to the Maoist insurgency of 1997, Nepal’s quest for democratic consolidation has been characterized by diverse ideological currents and aspirations.

The trajectory of women’s involvement in politics took a monumental leap during the general elections of 2058.

Here, adult women voters not only exercised their right to vote but also actively contested as candidates.

Dwarika Devi Thakurani’s candidacy from Dadeldhura constituency, the 66th Constituency of Nepal at the time, under the Nepali Congress banner, was a groundbreaking moment.

Thakurani’s victory not only symbolized a triumph for gender representation but also marked a significant stride towards gender-inclusive governance.

Reflecting on the governance and electoral systems that have shaped Nepal’s political landscape, it is evident that the contours of electoral participation have undergone profound transformations over the past eight decades.

The journey has been marked by a complex interplay of multiple governance systems, with intermittent challenges to democratic principles and citizens’ rights.

The struggles endured by figures like Dwarika Devi in navigating the nascent democratic terrain echo the broader battles waged by political parties in championing the rights of the populace and safeguarding democratic ideals.

From the armed revolution spearheaded by the Nepali Congress to the Maoist insurgency of 1997, Nepal’s quest for democratic consolidation has been characterized by diverse ideological currents and aspirations.

Elections serve as a potent instrument within this governance framework, fostering democratic participation and empowering citizens to select representatives capable of enhancing the efficiency of state governance.

However, despite the advent of democracy, the Nepali populace has grappled with recurring challenges to the free practice of democratic principles.

Periodic disruptions, including interventions by monarchic authorities, have impeded the uninterrupted exercise of democratic rights.

The specter of authoritarianism, epitomized by the resurgence of regressive monarchic forces, has haunted Nepal’s democratic journey, punctuating its progress with intermittent setbacks.

Even as Nepal navigates the complexities of its democratic evolution, it is imperative to reckon with the lessons of history and embark on a path of reform.

The electoral anomalies and systemic inadequacies that have plagued Nepal’s democratic journey underscore the urgency for transformative change.

As we confront the legacy of past injustices and chart a course for a more inclusive and equitable future, the imperative to overhaul Nepal’s electoral system looms large on the national agenda.

Despite the promulgation of Nepal’s modern constitution in 1990, the bold exercise of democratic practice by the Nepali populace remained elusive.

The specter of fear resurfaced following the Maoist armed conflict of 1997, precipitating a climate of apprehension and ushering in a period marked by the encroachment of direct monarchical rule.

At its core, a system of governance delineates the framework—be it written or customary—establishing the interrelations between state executives or government organs, aiming to achieve a balance of power within the state apparatus.

Nepal embarked on its democratic journey by embracing a ‘mixed election’ system for the inaugural Constituent Assembly convened in 2008, following the cessation of hostilities in the aftermath of the Maoist insurgency.

Elections serve as a potent instrument within this governance framework, fostering democratic participation and empowering citizens to select representatives capable of enhancing the efficiency of state governance.

Indeed, elections epitomize an advanced democratic practice, serving to broaden the contours of democracy and enable its substantive realization.

Irrespective of whether a nation adheres to democratic principles or operates within a republican framework, the overarching goal remains consistent: safeguarding the freedom of citizens, a fundamental tenet crucial for fostering prosperity and societal advancement.

In this context, the electoral process assumes paramount importance, constituting vast arenas of democratic engagement within the political boundaries of a nation’s geography.

Here, ordinary citizens wield their collective agency by conveying their aspirations to elected representatives through the sanctity of the ballot box.

Across the globe, diverse methodologies, processes, and systems underpin electoral practices, each reflecting unique socio-political contexts and historical trajectories.

Against this backdrop, a critical examination of Nepal’s electoral system—from its inception with the inaugural general election in 1947 to the recently concluded general election—emerges as imperative.

As Nepal navigates the intricate tapestry of its democratic evolution, the need for a comprehensive review of its electoral framework becomes increasingly apparent.

The lessons gleaned from this retrospective analysis will furnish invaluable insights, informing concerted efforts towards reform and the realization of a more equitable, inclusive, and robust democratic order.

The wings of a nation’s development and prosperity are undeniably intertwined with the electoral process.

However, the electoral landscape is marred by a plethora of distortions and anomalies, exacerbated by the structural deficiencies inherent in the existing electoral framework.

However, if citizens find themselves adrift in a sea of confusion, unsure of how to navigate the complexities of electoral choices, the very essence of democracy becomes hollow.

Nepal embarked on its democratic journey by embracing a ‘mixed election’ system for the inaugural Constituent Assembly convened in 2008, following the cessation of hostilities in the aftermath of the Maoist insurgency.

Within the House of Representatives, comprising 275 MPs, a portion is directly elected from the 165 constituencies delineated post-federalization.

Under the prevailing ‘first-past-the-post’ system, victory hinges on securing the highest number of votes in a given constituency, irrespective of the margin—be it a single vote or a thousand.

Consequently, candidates often resort to leveraging the tools of persuasion and coercion, encapsulated in the adage ‘by all means’ to tilt the scales in their favor.

The imperative to contest elections is invariably bound to the pursuit of victory.

This discrepancy has persisted since the inception of Nepal’s first general election, with historical precedents abound within the Nepali Congress leadership.

Yet, it is incumbent upon candidates to uphold the sanctity of the democratic process by respecting the electorate’s verdict, even in defeat.

However, the electoral landscape is marred by a plethora of distortions and anomalies, exacerbated by the structural deficiencies inherent in the existing electoral framework.

Rampant misuse of financial resources underscores the pervasive influence of vested interests, corroding the democratic ethos.

Furthermore, the constraints imposed by the Election Commission on campaign expenditures constrain candidates within rigid boundaries, often leading to subversion of regulations through clandestine means.

Such systemic fissures undermine the integrity of democratic practices, eroding public trust in the electoral process.

In response to these challenges, the incorporation of proportional representation emerges as a salient provision, offering a pathway towards rectifying the inequities embedded within the current electoral paradigm.

By fostering greater inclusivity and ensuring fair representation, the integration of proportional representation serves as a vital step towards revitalizing Nepal’s democratic ethos and fortifying the foundations of governance.

While termed proportional, the election system intended to represent minorities and marginalized communities often fails to deliver genuine inclusivity.

Particularly glaring is the absence of proportional representation in the National Assembly. Introducing a proportional or cyclical system for the National Assembly could enhance effectiveness, allotting specific constituencies for representation of certain classes and communities.

Instead, it inadvertently favors select individuals, failing to truly reflect the diversity of classes and communities it purports to serve.

This discrepancy has persisted since the inception of Nepal’s first general election, with historical precedents abound within the Nepali Congress leadership.

Dr. Shekhar Koirala, a prominent figure in the Nepali Congress, is spearheading efforts to reform this electoral process, recognizing its inherent flaws and the imperative for change.

In the current ‘one-win’ electoral system, the votes cast for unsuccessful candidates often go to waste, prompting the incorporation of a proportional election system.

This system seeks to empower minorities and ensure their representation in governance, hence earning the moniker ‘mixed election’ system in political discourse.

Under this system, voters cast their ballots not for individual candidates but for political parties, both at the national and provincial levels.

Parties submit block lists to the Election Commission, with MPs elected proportionally based on the percentage of votes garnered.

While ostensibly promoting proportional and inclusive democracy, this mixed election system is beset by myriad complexities, precipitating upheavals across the country.

Today, we find ourselves ensnared in a cycle where governments, both at the federal and provincial levels, struggle to endure even a year in office—a fate emblematic of our electoral system’s shortcomings, despite our earnest pursuit of democratic ideals over eight decades.

Particularly glaring is the absence of proportional representation in the National Assembly. Introducing a proportional or cyclical system for the National Assembly could enhance effectiveness, allotting specific constituencies for representation of certain classes and communities.

In Nepal’s multi-party democratic landscape, political stability is paramount for development and prosperity.

However, the current election system fosters political instability by complicating the attainment of majority governments.

The convolutions inherent in the mixed system preclude any party from securing a decisive majority, perpetuating a cycle of instability detrimental to the nation’s progress.

Addressing these systemic deficiencies is imperative to foster a more stable and equitable political environment, conducive to Nepal’s socio-economic advancement.

Our constitutional framework, predicated on the principle of forming governments based on the ‘majority of parliamentarians,’ ostensibly upholds the sanctity of election results.

However, in practice, this principle has been consistently undermined, mirroring the dispersion of elected representatives themselves.

Throughout Nepal’s democratic trajectory, successive governments have grappled with the inherent complexities of the electoral system.

The time has come for transformative action. Just as the best alternative to democracy is more democracy, the best alternative to our current electoral practices is a more sophisticated and advanced electoral system—one that truly embodies the democratic ideals we aspire to uphold.

Today, we find ourselves ensnared in a cycle where governments, both at the federal and provincial levels, struggle to endure even a year in office—a fate emblematic of our electoral system’s shortcomings, despite our earnest pursuit of democratic ideals over eight decades.

While multi-party pluralism enriches the tapestry of democracy, it is the elected representatives of these parties who are tasked with articulating the aspirations of the citizenry in the governance process.

Yet, amidst this abundance of choice, citizens often find themselves confounded, grappling with the dilemma of selecting the most suitable candidates.

The ramifications of our electoral system extend far beyond mere political equations, manifesting in the fissures plaguing regions like Koshi, the upheavals in Gandaki, the complexities of Karnali, and the polarities of Madhes, Lumbini, and Sudurpachim.

These challenges are not a consequence of flawed election results but rather the electoral system itself—a system we have grappled with since its inception.

Consequently, there is a growing consensus among political parties regarding the imperative to overhaul the electoral system.

It is a sentiment echoed not only by political entities but also acknowledged by the Election Commission itself—a recognition that change is not only necessary but feasible.

The time has come for transformative action. Just as the best alternative to democracy is more democracy, the best alternative to our current electoral practices is a more sophisticated and advanced electoral system—one that truly embodies the democratic ideals we aspire to uphold.

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