Nepal introduced the Proportional Representation (PR) system to expedite representativeness of marginalized population into mainstream politics – however, as we stare at the second provincial and federal elections since the promulgation of the constitution – one can only wonder how much impact it has had for minority groups like Women, Dalits, Madhesis, Indigeneous Communities, and People from Backward regions.
The representation of various minority groups has improved significantly in the parliament and the current state structure is, at least superficially inclusive. However, despite the superficial successes the PR system has achieved in Nepali politics, the true impact it was purported to achieve of a metamorphosis of the Nepali society is yet to transpire. Case in point, yesterday’s list of candidates for proportional representation by mainstream parties – which saw nominations of women candidates like Dr Arzoo Rana Deuba.
Accentuation of Party Power
Nepal utilizes a closed list Proportional Representation system whereby a fixed list of candidates is nominated by political parties. The candidates are elected on the basis of the percentage of votes received by the parties. Thus, the representation of minorities in the parliament is completely tied with party-politics. So much so, even the candidates are chosen by party leaders/personnel themselves.
Members of minority groups get candidature not through their contribution for their respective groups or the legitimacy obtained through elections but through their membership and close affiliation with political parties and their leaders. This entails a system whereby minority members who have access to the most resources and possess significant political clout have the disproportionate chance of being in a position of getting nominated.
Furthermore, there is a significant accentuation of the power of political parties with the fact that 40% of the seats in the parliament are directly nominated through parties. Although the public do vote indirectly for the candidates, they are not in a position to choose their preferred leaders. The members of the minority groups aspiring to represent their respective groups in parliament have to cater to the needs of the political parties to get elected and there is no direct incentive for them to promote the needs of the disadvantaged groups they represent.
The electoral procedure is set up in a manner that puts the aspirations of the political parties first. And even more deleterious is the control the political parties are likely to garner over the PR candidates in such a system. Thus, the status quo within the party structure builds a strong feedback mechanism to remain in power because of its influence over a vast number of party members as developed because of the PR system.
Annihilation of the Activist in Representatives
Anne Phillips in her book The Politics of Presence cites two reasons for the need for marginalized groups to be represented in political platforms by the members of the same group. The first one is symbolic representation which the current PR system has conferred reasonably well. The members of the marginalized group obtaining positions of power need to be normalized so the unjustified stereotypical assertions of a lack of capability slowly erode away.
The second one is a politics of transformation whereby the candidate is able to force the issues of the minority groups into mainstream politics and thus engender a holistic societal transformation for the marginalized population. The political representative of the marginalized group not only needs to act as a legislator but also an activist in parliament and work vigorously for asserting the presence of their group in national, regional and local decision-making structures.
For this, the candidate requires a tremendous amount of autonomy to reflect the needs of their group even when political interests of the party he or she represents is compromised.
However, the current framework rests the nomination of PR candidates on party officials and results in the annihilation of the activist in the representative. Any transgressions against party interests would result in a significant loss of political clout for the PR candidate hindering their ability to represent their group in the parliament. This was also seen during the Constitution making process whereby parties prohibited Indigenous lawmakers from publicly asserting their demands. They could do so only when party-interests and minority interests aligned. Thus, the current PR system encumbers the politics of presence argument and divests the marginalized groups from a true transformation towards economic and social equality.
And although the voices for the adoption of a complete PR system is being muttered even by experts due to its success in other countries like Finland, their development of democracy is very different from Nepal’s and it would be a mistake for the public to have a buffer from their political candidates.
With the current levels of the rule of law and the internal accountability present for politicians in the country, the need for elections holds strong. Most people would even want a directly elected Prime Minister.
The views expressed in the article are of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Aawaaj News.
Sanjit Shrestha is currently a Research Associate at Social Science Baha.