Friday, 19 April, 2024

Review Election System For Stability

Mukti Rijal


The political melodrama staged in the country has been more or less settled for better with some role adjustment and compromises though this is yet to be clearly thrashed out at the apex committee meeting of the ruling party. For a political observer, the ongoing intraparty bickering in the ruling party is more or less reminiscent of the period during early nineties when rivalry within the Nepali Congress party had peaked engineering a chain of events marked by unstable politics in the country. Events in those days had set off a kind of precedents of political instability as a recurring malaise in the body politics of the country. For the last twenty or more years, Nepal encountered a festering phase of political conflicts, wrangling and instability. However, the conflictive, unstable and transient phase was also impregnated with opportunities for clinching epoch making political changes in the country.
Amidst the deluge of instability and fluidity in politics, the country did manage to achieve progressive political development. Nepal enacted a federal democratic constitution through constituent assembly with a commitment to deliver transformative political stability in the country. Accordingly, general elections were held catapulting the Nepal Communist Party into an unassailable ruling position across all levels - federal, State and local. Even though the ruling party, headed by KP Sharma Oli, holds convincing majority in the federal parliament, internal feuding and bickering among the party leaders did pose seemingly a threat to stability of the executive leadership in the country. At a time when corona pandemic has posed existential threat with the country forced to go under lockdown for around one-and-half months, government and party leaders of the ruling party should have taken cognizance of the urgency of situation and settled for a thaw.
The potential threat as reported to the government stability and regularity has been mitigated through the compromise settlement among the party leaders for now. But the question still remains unanswered. Why the country has not been able to cure the malaise of political instability even as we have a federal democratic constitution enacted by the elected Constituent Assembly and a ruling party that commands absolute control over the three-tier government? Instead of blaming the tendency of this or that leader, current political developments demand that we review dispassionately some of the institutional arrangements that are stipulated in the Constitution of Nepal.
We have adopted the parliamentary system of the government with mixed electoral system combining First Past The Post (FPTP) and Proportional Representation (PR). This parallel mixed voting comprising FPTP and PR elect federal parliament and state assemblies and the FPTP mode is used for election for local government. Altogether 275 members are elected through the mixed polling mode for the intermediate organ - Parliament - that ultimately produces federal government. Not only in our context but in many countries like the United Kingdom itself, the government producing function of Parliament lies at the root of festering political squabbling and unscrupulous practices.
The current mode of elections has been blamed not only for creating political instability but also making the electoral contest very expensive. It is also said to be responsible for engendering abuse of power and misappropriation of public resources. The party leaders and lawmakers set their sight to hold executive posts and become ministers to amass resources at their disposal through recourse to illicit means so that winning the next elections becomes easier. In fact, many well-known political scientists like Wolf Linder argue that proportional representation mode should replace the existing majority system not only to make polls economic and cost effective but also democratically representative and robust.
Moreover, instead of parliament producing government, electorate’s vote should produce the head of the state and government known as executive presidency. In fact, the country had been badly mauled due to the political instability and continuous bickering marked by the frequent changes of the government due to the parliamentary system of the government in the past. The frequent change in the set of the executive chiefs and ministers for the last several decades has yielded adverse impacts in political, social and economic development of the country.
In fact, even today there has been a stronger and critical constituency of intelligentsia, political leaders and civil society organisations in the country that sees the directly elected presidency as the appropriate solution to the political feuding and instability. The agenda of the executive presidency had come to the fore when the constitution making process was accelerated in the CA but compromising tendencies of the political leaders failed the agenda giving room for current parliamentary model to secure an important place in the constitution.  The then Maoists had advocated for the directly elected president and accepted the constitution with some reservations. Accordingly, the erstwhile CPN-UML had put forth its stance in favour of directly elected prime minister. Not only this there was reportedly  an overwhelming majority of the support from people in favour of the proposition for directly elected head of the government as indicated by the submissions and suggestions from the citizens in the CA,  among others. But the political parties abandoned this agenda and agreed to go for the obsolete parliamentary model.
The parties had thus missed the opportunity to give the historic turn to the polity of the country. As there was a possibility of agreement among the political stakeholders on the presidential model of the government, its advocates had made a needed push for it. But they compromised and lent their support to the continuity of the parliamentary model. Political leaders are shortsighted, and therefore tend to make compromise on principles for short term gains and benefits at the expense of long-term political goal. The current political imbroglio indicates that there is no alternative to directly elected executive presidency to institute political stability for which we should go for an elaborate reviewing of the constitution.

(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues.