India has been using the First- Past-the-Post (FPP) electoral system to elect its lower house of Parliament (Lok Sabha) and state assemblies since 1952. It follows the system which is already in vogue in 47 countries including the United Kingdom, the USA and Canada. Nepal too adopted it in its first parliamentary election in 1959.
After a gap of thirty years of partyless Panchayat system, it again adopted it in 1991 under the 1990 constitution, which continued in 1994 mid-term poll and in 1999. Nepal adopted another system called the Mixed Parallel electoral system – which had two systems operating simultaneously – for its Constituent Assembly (CA) elections of 2008 and 2013.
It has 60 per cent seats under Proportional Representation (PR) System and 40 per cent under FPP system to make the elected House more inclusive. However, in the new Constitution adopted by the CA in 2015, the ratio of seats was reversed. As per the new scheme, 60 per cent seats were to be elected through FPP and 40 per cent through PR system.
Generally, there are two major electoral systems – First-Past-the-Post and Proportional Representation (PR) – in the democratic world. In FPP system (also known as Plurality system), a candidate who gets the highest number of votes is elected.
In PR system, representatives are elected proportionally as per numbers of votes received by the party. Both these have merits and demerits. It is a fact that in FPP, government formation is easy as candidates get elected with the highest number of votes without having a majority. In reality, a majority of votes get wasted by way of non-representation.
It elects mostly a minority government. Largely poor and uneducated voters are lured and intimidated to cast their votes in favour of a particular candidate. Caste, clan, ethnicity and creed play important roles in winning elections. Goons, criminals, musclemen and contractors with easy money are gradually entering electoral politics and are capturing state power.
The quality of politics has deteriorated, as personal interests of making money have overshadowed public interest. Comparatively, PR system is a less expensive one as candidates’ personal credibility and integrity are not at stake. They need not spend huge sums of money, as their elections are not guaranteed.
Nepal adopted PR system as a segment of Mixed Parallel system. Sadly, candidates were hardly chosen fairly and subjective considerations prevailed. Senior political leaders used to nominate their kith and kin for PR seats. Sometimes, money too played a major role in getting nomination from the party. Ironically, in Nepal, the closed list of PR system was allowed to change the priority of names to suit leaders.
Those elected under PR system are not generally considered real representatives since they do not represent any specific geographic area. Along with the problem of representation, the cost of election is increasing day by day everywhere. Interestingly, the Election Commission of Nepal spent Rs 150 million for the 1991 general election. In the midterm poll of 1994, it was about Rs 220 million and in 1999 it went upto Rs 350 million.
In 2008, for the first Constituent Assembly (CA) election, the EC spent about Rs 2.8 billion and the amount went up to Rs 5 billion in 2012 for the second CA election. The total amount spent by different government agencies was Rs 1,626 crore for Federal and Provincial elections in 2017-8.
The Election Commission (EC) spent Rs 6.4 billion to conduct the elections. It is believed that about Rs 10 billion rupees were spent by candidates on their election campaign despite a spending limit of Rs 2.5 million fixed by the EC. Earlier, it was found that individual candidates had spent millions of rupees in 2017 for elections to ward chairmanships of Village Councils.
The high cost of electioneering has increased the level of political corruption. Hence, an electoral system has to be evolved which may control rising political corruption.
With regard to expensive elections, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace holds that elections are getting more expensive for many structural reasons: there is a growing population, increasing political competition, voter expectations of handouts in the form of cash and other inducements, and technological change, which means greater outlays for media and digital outreach.
To get rid of the present day electoral malaise, countries like India and Nepal should go for a new hybrid electoral system which can integrate the merits of these two systems on the one hand and discard their demerits, on the other. In the proposed system, PR system can be introduced to limit the seats of the parties as per their shares of votes.
In PR system, elected legislators have weak links with their constituents; hence candidates under PR should not be declared elected only as per list submitted by the parties but they must also obtain most votes in their constituencies, as is the case in the FPP system. This will make candidates responsible to their voters who in turn will know their real representatives.
Significantly and as under FPP candidates having highest or majority of votes will not be elected, as the seats available to the parties are limited under PR scheme. All parties will have seats in proportion to the votes received. The number of seats which a party claims, will be determined as per the natural threshold.
In Nepal, there are 35 single constituency districts for which special provision has been made. Such districts will elect their representatives under FPP only. The seats won by parties will be adjusted against their proportional quotas.
Similarly, smaller parties, whose shares will be meager, will get preference in getting their nominees elected on priority basis even if these parties do not win plurality of votes in any constituency. Similarly, independent candidates will also be elected with plurality of votes.
The rest of the seats will be proportionally won by the major parties. The new system can be equally applicable to the Indian electoral system by making every state a PR constituency. The sum total of all members representing states will form the central legislature or parliament. It will contain malpractices and election expenses as well.
The logic behind the integrated system is that winning election by getting most votes will not guarantee the victory of the candidates, as the seats to be won by the parties are limited in proportion to the votes received on state or national basis under PR scheme.
If the use of money and muscle does not guarantee victory, no one will take the risk of spending huge money and resorting to muscle power. The uncertainty of winning will not only deter the candidates from spending unlimited money but also reduce political corruption significantly.
It will also encourage honest workers to participate in the elections as financial constraints will not come in their way. This will increase the people’s faith in democracy and make it thrive in the days to come.
(The writer is a former Election Commissioner of Nepal.)