27 June - 3 July 2014 #713

Bye bye-elections

Allowing candidates to run from two constituencies is a waste of time and keeps power concentrated in the hands of a few top gerontocrats
Trishna Rana
Seven months after the 2013 CA elections, thousands of Nepalis queued up to cast their ballots once again, not for local polls as the political parties had promised, but for bye-elections in four constituencies.

With 76 candidates contesting, more than 3,000 government officials and 6,000 security forces were deployed across Kathmandu, Chitwan, Bardiya, and Kailali. It was a prodigious exercise that took months of preparation and left the state treasury lighter by Rs 110 million -- time and money that the Election Commission could have spent holding long overdue local elections.

Both the 1990 constitution and Article 5 (2) of Election to Members of the Constituent Assembly Act (2007) have allowed candidates to contest elections from two constituencies.

While Chief Election Commissioner Nil Kantha Upreti attempted to amend this provision and limit contestants to a single constituency last year, the proposal was vehemently opposed by the party leadership. And like in 2008, senior leaders from the three main parties smugly contested polls from two districts in 2013 as well.

Standing from two constituencies is an insurance policy for leaders: if they fare badly in one district they at least have another one to fall back on. More importantly, if they win in both, it demonstrates their dominance outside their traditional vote banks and is a great ego boost.

Neighbouring India, which prides itself in being the biggest democracy in the world, is not immune to this undemocratic culture. In the recently concluded general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ran for parliamentary seats from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh alongside Vadodara in his home state of Gujarat, where victory was guaranteed.

Modi’s emphatic win in Uttar Pradesh over Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal was symbolic not just of his growing stature, but also of the BJP’s ascendancy in national politics. He later gave up his Vadodara seat.

For Modi as well as for Nepal’s leaders, the wins however come at the expense of ordinary citizens whether it’s through supporting parties with ‘donations’ or through the taxes we pay which are used to fund elections.

The 65 per cent turnout on average across the four constituencies in Sunday’s bye-elections was less than November’s 80 per cent, and there is the danger of voter fatigue affecting future polls. If we have local elections within the next 12 months, people might decide not to show up in polling centres in large numbers. The practice of bequeathing two tickets to senior leaders means that younger candidates, especially women, have to wait for years, even decades, to compete in elections and thereby lose out on valuable campaigning experience.

If Nepal is to transform from a political gerontocracy to a more vibrant and open polity, reforms in election laws in the new constitution is a good place to begin. We need to debate the pro and cons of a mixed electoral system and see if perhaps a pure proportional representation system is a better choice for us given that the first-past-the-post ballot has traditionally favoured big parties with ‘celebrity’ candidates.

Even if we decide to stick with what we have, the provision which allows candidates to run from two different constituencies needs to be discarded because it is a waste of time and encourages the concentration of power in the hands of a few top leaders. The PR system too needs a few tweaks. For example, parties should be made to submit their lists before polls and the candidates should be clearly ranked in order of importance so that future elections are more efficient and democratic.


Read also:

Let’s not repeat 2008, Kanak Mani Dixit

Weigh-in, Kunda Dixit

Boys will be boys

Modi’s momentum, Kanak Mani Dixit

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