The constituent assembly election is supposed to right historic wrongs. It is supposed to bring those left out of the political mainstream into decision-making.
But looking at the line-up of candidates for the first-past-the-post ballot and the proportional representation vote, Janajatis and Dalits may still not be represented in the constituent assembly in numbers proportionate to their population.
"The constituent assembly is going to be more inclusive this time but it will not be as proportional as it should be," UML MP Phatik Thapa told Nepali Times. Although party candidate lists for this election feature more women, Madhesis, Janajatis and Dalits than in previous polls, they are still below their population ratios.
Janajatis, for instance, comprise 37.8 percent of the population and the electoral commission has recommended that an equivalent number of candidates in the various parties should be drawn from their ranks.
But not all Janajati communities are included because some have very small populations. Of 59 registered Janajati groups, only 31 have any candidates at all in the CA polls. Sociologist and Janajati activist Krishna Bhattachan explains: "It is practicably impossible to include all Janajati groups under a mixed electoral system. It would only be possible if the system was completely proportional."
The Maoists seem to be the most inclusive party in ethnic and caste terms. Some 194 (33 percent) of their candidates are from Janajati communities, and 47 (8 percent) are Dalits. The NC has 162 (28 percent) Janajati and 30 (5 percent) Dalit candidates, and the UML has 148 (25 percent) and 30 (5 percent) respectively. Each of these parties is fielding a total of 575 candidates.
Whereas the Maoists come fairly close to meeting the recommended quota for Janajatis, both the other main parties are far behind, and none of the three parties is close to meeting the 13 percent quota recommended for Dalits.
Even among Janajatis, some groups dominate others. Taking the three main parties together, there are a total of 111 Newar candidates, 82 Magars, 25 Tharus and 22 Tamangs. This is in spite of the fact that Magars, Tharus and Tamangs have larger populations than Newars.
Apart from sheer numbers, list which they are on is also important. There are two electoral systems that voters have to choose from: first-past-the-post (FPTP) and proportional representation (PR). Candidates in the FPTP system are able to campaign for themselves, and if they are elected in their constituency, are guaranteed a seat. However candidates on the PR lists can only campaign on behalf of their party. They form a pool from which their parties will nominate representatives according to their overall national share of the votes. For candidates on the PR list getting a seat is far from guaranteed.
Of all the Janajati candidates in the three main parties, only about 40 percent are on the FPTP list, meaning 60 percent will still have to be nominated to the assembly again by their leadership after the election.
UML leader Shankar Pokharel sees nothing wrong with the selection process. "What's important is that candidates have devoted time to the party, remain loyal to the party and help the party in campaigning," he said. "Why should we select someone who criticises the party?"
The parties are under no compulsion to select proportional numbers of Janajatis and Dalits to represent them in the assembly. There are worries that central selection procedures will favour those groups close to the leadership, which, in all parties, are Bahun and Chhetri.
"The selection process has already made certain segments of the population feel excluded in the attempt to draft the first supposedly inclusive constitution," Bhattachan says.
It's likely that many Bahuns and Chhetris also feel excluded by the some of the Janajati groups' demands (now adopted by the Maoists) for ethnically-based federal states. Most areas of Nepal are too ethnically heterogeneous for this scheme to work (\'Mapping a mosaic\', #392).
However, as long as all regions, castes and ethnic groups are not equally represented in an elected assembly, analysts say, simmering resentment amongst the excluded is likely to remain.