New House of Representatives to be less inclusiveAs proportional representation votes are scattered among parties, women, Dalits, Janajatis will be underrepresented.
With most Dalit, Janajati and women candiates across parties failing to win the first-past-the-post (FPTP) elections for the House of Representatives, the upcoming parliament is set to become less inclusive than the last one.
As many as 35 Janajatis, eight women and only one Dalit have won parliament seats under the FPTP system of elections with almost all results from the November 20 elections already in.
With just one Dalit candidate elected under the FPTP system, this will be the lowest representation of Dalits in Parliament since the 2008 elections. But parties will elect more Dalits under the proportional representation (PR) system, under which 110 members from various groups will be sent to Parliament.
Under the PR system, 15 Dalit members should be elected as 13.8 percent seats have been allocated for the community based on the 2011 national census. This means there will be a total of 16 Dalit representatives (or 5.8 percent) in the 275-strong parliament.
Though the constitution has ensured proportional representation of all of the country’s ethnic groups in state organs including parliament, marginalised and underprivileged groups like women, Dalits and Janajatis do not have census-based representation in parliament.
Not only Dalit but the representation of Janajatis and women will also decrease this time.
There are several reasons for the falling representation of marginalised and underprivileged groups in parliament.
JB Bishwokarma, a researcher and Dalit rights activist, said there are multiple reasons for this state of affairs: absence of parties’ policies to promote candidates from marginalised communities, lack of self-confidence among these candidates that they can win FPTP polls, no binding laws for representation of marginalised groups except for women, and shortage of funds to contest elections that are becoming costlier by the day.
“In the Constituent Assembly elected in 2008, representatives from marginalised groups were in significant numbers but their representation has been continuously decreasing,” said Bishwokarma. “And the problem is the major parties are least bothered by the underrepresentation.”
In the 2017 elections, three Dalit representatives were elected to parliament under the FPTP system—Chhabilal Bishwakarma and Jagat Sunar from the UML, and Maheshwar Gahatraj from the Maoist Centre. But this time Chhabilal Bishwakarma of the UML is the sole winner.
Under the PR election system through which 110 seats will be filled, the Khas Arya group will get 31.20 percent; indigenous nationalities 28.70 percent; Madhesi 15.30 percent; Dalits 13.8 percent; Tharu 6.6 percent; and Muslims 4.40 percent.
Although only seven women were elected to parliament under the FPTP category in the 2017 polls, this time their number has increased to eight. But their representation under the PR system could decrease as several parties have failed to cross the three percent PR vote threshold by small vote margins. For example, the CPN (Unified Socialist), which has secured 2.84 percent PR votes so far, could be deprived of the national-party status. Similarly, the PR votes won by the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, Nagarik Unmukti Party and Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party are likely to go to waste for their failure to cross the three percent threshold. Any party that fails to become a national party is not allocated PR seats.
Eight women candidates have won polls as of Tuesday evening: Bidya Bhattarai (Kaski-2), Juli Mahato (Dhanusha-3), and Jwala Kumari Sah (Bara-3) from CPN-UML; Sita Gurung (Tehrathum) from Nepali Congress; Rekha Sharma (Dang-2) from CPN (Maoist Centre); Toshima Karki (Lalitpur-3) and Sobita Gautam (Kathmandu-2) from the Rastriya Swatantra Party; and Ranjita Shrestha (Kailali-2) from the Nagarik Unmukti Party. UML candidate Bhagawati Chaudhari has been leading the vote count in Sunsari-3 while the counting of Syangja-2 where the party’s secretary Padma Aryal is contesting is yet to start.
During the 2017 polls, 85 female candidates were elected under the PR quota to ensure 33 percent representation in the 275-strong lower House.
The number of lawmakers from indigenous nationalities elected under the FPTP system was 33 in 2017. This time, their number has increased to 35, but their representation under the PR category could still decrease with many parties losing the national party status.
Even if the indigenous nationalities get 31 seats (or 28.7 percent) of the total 110 seats, they will only number 66 (or 24 percent). During the 2017 polls Janajatis had 29 seats under the PR system even though they are entitled for 31 seats.
Indigenous nationalities including Tharu account for 38 percent of the national population as per the 2011 census, but their representation is far below their population ratio. This has been happening despite their constitutionally guaranteed proportional representation in all state organs.
“After drafting the constitution, the parties were focused on ways to boost the representation of majority and dominant groups like the Khas Arya instead of marginalised and disadvantaged ones,” said Mukta Singh Lama, an indigenous rights activist and researcher who holds a PhD in anthropology.
“As the number of Khas Arya representatives in parliament has already exceeded their share of the national population, their election under the PR quota will further reduce the representations of marginalised groups.”
Lama said that only with a sustained struggle would adequate representation of Janajatis and Dalits be ensured, with the parties already failing to implement the constitutional provision of 33 percent women’s representation.
“Actually, the Khas Arya quota should itself be removed as no other country in the world sets quotas for dominant groups,” said Bishwokarma, the researcher. “Only in Nepal is this ugly practice of social justice possible.”