Nearly half of ethnic groups unrepresented in Parliament in 15 years of PR exerciseThe proportional representation system seems to benefit only the communities that are affluent and better linked.
Tika R Pradhan
When the country embraced the proportional representation system following the second popular movement of 2006, people from marginalised groups were highly optimistic that their communities would be represented in Parliament.
But even after three election cycles—two for Constituent Assembly and one for federal Parliament–around half of the country’s 126 enlisted ethnic groups are still not represented in Parliament.
It’s been 15 years since the country embraced the PR electoral system, but only a handful of groups and communities have repeatedly benefitted from the system while a large number of smaller and marginalised communities remain deprived of representation in the national legislature.
According to a yet-to-be-published report of the National Inclusion Commission, a constitutional body, as many as 62 of the 126 ethnic groups have never been represented in Parliament. (Overlap in memberships of certain communities makes the exact figure hard to determine.)
The commission has been studying the ethnic groups with little or no representation in Parliament since 2006.
It has listed another 16 ethnic groups including Amat, Bantawa, Jirel that were represented in the legislature for a single time.
Among the 62, three had less than 1,000 members each, as per the 2011 census. There were 273 Kusunda people, 278 Nurai, and 618 Raute, while the population of all other groups were in thousands with Kalar having 1,077 members and Musahar 234,490, according to the census.
The two 601-member Constituent Assemblies seemed more inclusive than the legislatures elected after the promulgation of the constitution in 2015.
Chairperson of the National Foundation for the Development of Indigenous Nationalities (NFDIN) Gokul Gharti said some of the endangered and highly marginalised communities were accommodated in the Constituent Assemblies in the 26 seats allocated for nomination by the government.
In the 601-seat assemblies, 26 seats were to be filled by the government, but the existing system has reduced the number of seats to three, which are to be filled by the President on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers. Gharti said with the removal of the provision to nominate 26 members, chances of including such communities went down considerably.
Among the country’s 59 indigenous nationalities, NFDIN has listed 10 groups–Kusunda, Bankariya, Raute, Surel, Hayu, Raji, Kissan, Lepcha, Meche and Kusbadiya—as endangered.
Another twelve groups listed by NFDIN as highly-marginalised are Majhi, Siyar, Lhomi (Singsawa), Thudam, Dhanuk, Chepang, Satar/Santhal, Thami, Jhangad (Urao), Bote, Danuwar and Baram.
Twenty groups are listed in the marginalised section, 15 others under disadvantaged groups and two–Newar and Thakali—are listed as ‘advanced communities’.
“Once the size of Parliament was reduced to 275 members with only 40 percent seats allocated for proportional representation, the representation of marginalised groups as envisioned by the constitution has been affected,” Gharti told the Post.
Asked how their representations could be increased, Gharti, who is also a leader of the CPN-UML, said Nepali political parties follow only legally-binding measures.
“In order to ensure fair representation of the marginalised groups in Parliament, we need a mandatory provision like the 33 percent reservation for women,” Gharti said.
He also pointed out that the political parties were uninterested in ensuring their representation despite the constitutional provision of proportional representation of all ethnic groups, because they are sparsely populated and hence have little influence in electoral outcomes.
Ram Krishna Timalsena, chairperson of the National Inclusion Commission, said the total population of the 62 groups, which have no representation in Parliament, accounts for just 5.6 percent of the country’s total population, as per the 2011 census.
Timalsena said the country must first make these groups competent enough for parliamentary representation with the right kind of education and training.
“It’s the responsibility of the state to make them capable of competing against other groups,” said Timalsena. “Only 12 groups including Brahmin, Chhetri, Newar, Gurung, Magar, Rai, Limbu and Yadav have benefitted from the proportional representation system.”
However, there are examples especially among groups including Thakalis who have enjoyed better representation despite their small populations.
“Nowadays, the politics of representation depends on the population of the groups concerned, barring some exceptions like Thakalis,” said Govinda Chhantyal, a janajati activist and former vice-chair of the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, an umbrella organisation of indigenous nationalities of the country. “Thakalis were better represented as they are financially better off despite their small numbers.”
Instead of these marginalised groups Nepali political leaders have included well-off and powerful leaders besides their near and dear ones in the PR list in a blatant disregard of the spirit of the constitution.
As per the House of Representatives Election Act 2017, 13.8 percent of the total candidates in the closed list of the parties must be Dalits, 28.7 percent janajatis, 31.2 percent Khas Arya, 15.3 percent Madheshis, 6.6 percent Tharus and 4.4 percent candidates in the list must be Muslims.
National Dalit Commission Chair Devraj Bishwakarma said the constitutional commission has been urging the government and political parties to ensure adqaute representation of the Dalit communities, to no avail.
“Political parties and governments do not listen to our concerns. The only way to make them take heed is to keep building pressure,” Bishwakarma said.
62 groups which have never made it to Parliament*
16. Mewahang Bala,
61. Mallaha and
(*According to a preliminary report of the National Inclusion Commission)