Political parties continue to abuse proportional representation systemMany nominees in the closed lists submitted to Election Commission have repeatedly occupied positions of power.
Along with heralding a change in the political system, the people’s movement in 2006 also established the concept of proportional representation.
The Interim Constitution in 2007 institutionalised the representation of the excluded communities in both state organs and political parties. It guaranteed 45 percent reservation for minority communities in bureaucracy in the vacancies announced by the Public Service Commission and other government agencies.
For the first time, the Constituent Assembly included the provision of proportional representation in 2008. In the 601-strong assembly, 335 members were elected under this category. The same provision got continuity in the second Constituent Assembly.
The proportional representation system was meant to ensure the representation of the people from the marginalised and underrepresented communities in state organs. The provision, however, has been misused by political parties right from the time of the first Constituent Assembly. People from the business community were chosen under the Madhesi category while the wives or close relatives of top politicians got elected under women’s category.
The share of proportional representation members was reduced in the Constitution of Nepal promulgated in 2015. In the 275 member-strong House of Representatives, 40 percent—110 members—are elected under the proportional representation system. The remaining 165 members are elected under the first-past-the-post system.
Yet, the misuse of the system continues. Legal and political experts say though people from the communities that have been discriminated against for ages have benefited from the provision, it has largely been misused by political parties.
Mohan Lal Acharya, a constitutional lawyer, says the provision was introduced to end the state of almost exclusive representation of dominant groups in Parliament.
“As it is difficult for the people from marginalised communities to win direct elections, their representation could be ensured through the proportional representation system,” Acharya told the Post. “However, the parties have been misusing the provision since the first Constituent Assembly elections in 2008. And the misuse has been getting worse.”
As many as 48 parties submitted their closed lists of proportional representation candidates on Monday. However, many names on the lists suggest the parties are abusing the system to elect those close to power. Several such leaders have got multiple opportunities not just in Parliament but also in the government.
The ruling Nepali Congress, for instance, has recommended its Central Working Committee member Arzu Rana Deuba, who had been a member of the first Constituent Assembly, under the women’s category. The party’s closed list includes former Congress vice-president Bimalendra Nidhi, who has served as lawmaker and minister several times. Another PR candidate, Gopal Man Shrestha, is the party’s former vice-chair and has served as lawmaker and minister multiple times.
The CPN-UML has included Nain Kala Thapa, a former minister and wife of party vice-chair Ram Bahadur Thapa. CPN (Maoist Centre) vice-chair Krishna Bahadur Mahara is among the leaders in the party who have enjoyed state benefits several times. He has been a lawmaker and minister on and off, and also served as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. However, the party has included him in the closed list under the proportional representation system.
CPN (Unified Socialist) leader Ganga Lal Tuladhar is also a former lawmaker and minister. However, he too has secured a spot in the party’s closed list under the proportional representation system.
“It is not just those close to the top leadership and those with deep pockets, those who are afraid of losing the elections under the first-past-the-post system are also getting proportional representation tickets,” Meena Vaidya Malla, a professor of political science and former chief of the Central Department of the Political Science under Tribhuvan University, told the Post.
“Those who have gotten the opportunities to be in power repeatedly shouldn’t be picked under the proportional representation system. Such misuse defeats the very purpose of the system.”
She says the way the parties are manipulating the system could render it irrelevant.
“Proportional representation is an apt system in a diverse country like ours where large sections of people have traditionally been kept away from the state machinery,” she told the Post. “It is the moral responsibility of the parties to implement the provision as per its spirit.”
As per the Election Commission, the closed list must have 28.7 percent share of the indigenous and janajatis, 31.2 percent Khas-Arya, 6.6 percent Tharus, 13.8 percent Dalits, 15.3 percent Madhesis, 4.4 percent Muslims, and 4.3 percent from the remote areas.
Officials at the commission say they will see if the parties have followed the rules while nominating candidates for proportional representation seats.
“The parties can still change the priority lists if they want. Also, the commission will ask them to revise the lists if there is no proper representation of all prescribed clusters,” Yagya Bhattarai, chief of the legal department under the commission, told the Post.
“But it is beyond our capacity to ensure the parties are honouring the true spirit of proportional representation.”