Nepal Elections: A Right Direction for Constitution Implementation and Political Stability

Image credit: China Daily


By Hari Prasad Shrestha

Some critics consider Nepal almost as a one-city state. Almost all the country’s opportunities, its decent medical facilities, its key places for education, its administrative centers, the whole thing is in Kathmandu. The centralized system of state became major causes of increasing inequalities between Kathmandu and rest of the nation. Even after commencement of multiparty political system in 1990 Nepal is experiencing inequalities and instability.

The frequent changes in government have badly hindered the country’s development and economic growth. The game of government toppling and forming dominates the national political arena. As the major parties remain busy grasping power, vital issues were overshadowed.

Due to the lack of political stability, economic growth has completely stuck, causing unemployment which pushed millions of youth abroad to search for jobs. With the political situation uncertain, foreign investors are hesitant to spend money in Nepal. Domestic industries are facing a lot of challenges due to the political situation.

Even after constitution promulgation in 2015, there were big hindrances for its implementation as well as political stability. The Nepal India border blockade by India and Madhesh agitation were great challenges to implement the constitution. According to the constitution, it is mandatory to hold all elections – local, provincial and federal before 21 Jan 2018. Otherwise a constitution vacuum would be created automatically, it is a very dangerous and challenging situation for Nepal. At the last moment, due to changing regional political scenario and foresightedness of major political parties, the government decided to hold all level of elections and the county started to move on right track for constitution implementation and political stability.

After 20 years of interval Nepal successfully completed three phases of local polls of 6 metropolitan cities, 11 sub-metropolitan cities, 276 municipalities and 460 rural municipalities in 2017. It was a big step in supporting stability in the country. Moreover, to hold election before cutoff date of the constitution, on 21 August 2017 the cabinet announced election date for federal House of Representative and Provincial Legislative Assemblies. The elections will be held on two phases, first on 26 November and second phase on 7 December 2017.

A five-member Constituency Delineation Commission was formed under the chairmanship of former Supreme Court Justice Kamal Narayan Das to redraw the 165 constituency boundaries. It submitted its report to the government on 30 August 2017.  The boundaries set by this commission will remain unchanged for the next 20 years as per Article 286 of the constitution.

The 275 members of the federal legislature will be elected by two methods; 165 will be elected from single-member constituencies by first-past-the-post (FTPT) voting and 110 seats will be elected by closed list proportional representation (PR) from a single nationwide constituency. The provincial legislatures of 7 provinces will have double numbers in total compared to federal legislature with the similar methods. Each voter will get separate ballot papers for the two methods. A party or electoral alliance must pass the election threshold of 3% of the overall valid vote to be allocated a seat under the proportional method.

According to the House of Representatives Members Election Act, 2017, State Assembly Member Election Act, 2017, 50 percent women should be selected and nominated in the PR system, and the political parties must ensure 33 percent women reservation in total number of Federal Parliament members including women from all castes and ethnic groups.

The Acts have allocated 31 percent reservation for Brahmin-Kshetri (Khas-Arya),  29.7 percent for indigenous people, 15.3 percent for the Madhesi community, 13.8 percent for Dalits, 6.6 percent for Tharus and 4.4 percent for the Muslims.

After announcement of election dates, there were high suspicion among opposition parties about uncertainty of election as Janata Party Nepal leader Sarvendra Nath Shukla, who had filed a writ demanding four ballot papers be used for first-past-the-post and proportional representation elections for provincial assembly and federal House of Representatives after most of the ballot papers were printed out.

The Supreme Court gave verdict by saying that ongoing preparations for provincial and federal parliamentary elections need not be stayed, it is very likely that the polls will take place on scheduled dates of November 26 and December 7.

According to the Election Commission of Nepal, 702 FPTP candidates are in the contest for the first phase for 37 constituencies of House of Representatives and 74 seats of Provincial Assemblies in 32 districts.

For second and final phase of parliament and assembly elections, 522 FPTP candidates give in to their papers for 128 constituencies of House of Representatives and 883 runners filed nominations for 256 seats of Provincial Assemblies in 45 districts.

6094 candidates have been nominated for PR in the federal and provincial parliaments by different political parties. Out of it 110 in house of representative and 220 in 7 provincial legislative assembly will be finally picked up based on number of PR votes received by the parties.

According to the Constitution, Nepal will have a two chamber Parliament. As stated above, the House of Representatives will have 275 members elected for a five year term, 165 from single-seat constituencies and 110 from a proportional party list. The National Assembly will have 59 members elected for six years term.

After completion of federal and provincial elections, elections for National Assembly will be held. Each of the seven states elects 8 members each. The electoral college consists of members of the State Assembly and Chairperson/Mayor and Vice Chairperson/Deputy Mayor of the local bodies within the state. Each State Assembly member vote has a weight of forty-eight whereas each Chairperson/Mayor/Vice Chairperson/Deputy Mayor vote has weight of eighteen. Out of the eight member each state, one must be women, one must be a Dalit and one must be disabled or from a minority community.

A surprising movement took place in Nepal after announcement of election, two of Nepal’s biggest leftist parties – the CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre –  announced the formation of an alliance ahead of provincial and federal elections and with party unification to follow the elections. Sources said the unification bid was engineered by some leaders of both parties who are known to be friendly with China.

The CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre will have shared in a 60:40 ratio for the upcoming polls and supported each other’s candidates. Other leftist parties like Rastriya Janamorcha and Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist–Leninist) have also joined this alliance in selected districts.

As a response to this left alliance,  democratic alliance consisting of Nepali Congress, Rastriya Prajantanra Party, Rastriya Prajantanra Party (Democratic) and several Madhesh based parties was formed. Naya Shakti Party left the communist alliance and announced an alliance with democratic parties  after its coordinator Baburam Bhattarai was not guaranteed an election ticket from his preferred constituency of Gorkha by the left alliance. The Madhesh based parties and the Nepali Congress party, after disagreements with sharing numbers of candidates they filed candidate nominations separately by breaking the alliance. These parties are known to be friendly with India.

Formation of two major political alliances are good signals for the political stability in Nepal. There is high possibility of majority government to be formed in future, in any of the one alliance. Previously, due to high numbers of big and small parties, Nepal faced bitter experiences of party fragmentation and associations in the formation of the government. Since 1990, more than 28 governments have been formed and most of the government spent less than a year’s term. In the present alliance circumstances, more balanced political equilibrium has been expected in Nepal related to relations with India and China. Which is also good sign for political stability and smooth constitution implementation in Nepal.