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Constituency Conundrum

  • Balancing population and geography will be the biggest challenge in ensuring proportionate representation
- Khim Lal Devkota
In a country like Nepal, with unequal development patterns, adopting a seat-allocation system based only on population might not be entirely reasonable

Aug 11, 2017-

Less than a week remains for the Constituency Delineation Commission (CDC) to submit their report to the government. Formed on July 20, the commission is yet to design the basis for determining the 165 electoral constituencies for federal parliament and 330 constituencies for provincial parliament. As per the federal constitution, elections must be held by January 21, 2018.

The federal parliament comprises of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly. An electoral college comprised of members of the provincial assemblies, chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of the Village Councils, and mayors and deputy mayors of municipalities are charged with electing 56 members for the 59-member National Assembly. 

While delineating electoral constituencies, the CDC must take population numbers and geography into consideration as the basis for representation. Doing so will ensure that the ratio between the geography, population and number of members to elect is more or less equal across all constituencies. Further, as the constitution mandates, four criteria should be followed to delineate the constituencies: population density, geographical specificity, administrative and transportation convenience, and community and cultural aspects. 

No questions can be raised against the CDC in court on any matter relating to delineation.  Further, the election constituencies delineated can be reviewed every twenty years.

But balancing population and geography will be the biggest challenge in ensuring proportionate representation, as some provinces have a significantly larger population than others. For example, Province 3 has a population of 5.5 million, while Province 6 has a population of only 1.5 million. Similarly, the district of Kathmandu alone has a population of 1.7 million, while the district of Manang has only 6500 people. Similar problems arise when considering the geographical criteria as well. For example, Province 6 covers an area that is three times larger than that of Province 2. The area of Province 6 covers 30,400 sq km while the geographical area of Province 2 covers only 9600 sq km. This difference in area is even greater for districts; the area of the district of Bhaktapur covers 119 sq km compared to the 7889 sq km covered by Dolpa. It is undoubtedly a very difficult task for the CDC to balance out these differences. 

To resolve such issues, the CDC has consulted politicians and experts. It is also expected that the CDC will borrow good practices from other countries, including India. 

Learning from examples

India, with a population of 1.2 billion according to its 2011 census, is comprised of 29 states and seven union territories. The Indian parliament is bicameral in nature—Rajya Sabha is the Upper House and Lok Sabha is the Lower House. The Lok Sabha (People’s Assembly) is composed of 545 members, 543 of which are apportioned among the states through people’s vote and two members who are chosen by the president. The core states of India—Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Haryana—account for 45 percent of the total population of the country, but they receive 214 seats (39 percent). If Lok Sabha seats were distributed solely on the basis of the population, these core states would have received 244 seats—30 seats more than what they have currently been allocated. According to existent provisions, a single seat in the Lower House represents every 2.7 million people in Rajasthan, while the Union Territory of Lakshadweep receives one seat for every 64,000 people. Against this backdrop, the obvious question would be: why is the seat allocation in India’s parliament not reflective of its population? This is because the allocation of seats in the Lok Sabha is not truly based on population. Another important fact about India’s parliament is that the current number of seats in Lok Sabha is based on India’s 1971 census; a change in the number of representatives for each state has been halted until 2026. Until then, the numbers will be kept constant, irrespective of the absolute population.

India has reserved parliamentary seats for less-populated areas such as Lakshadweep, Daman, Dadra and Sikkim. The same system can be followed in Nepal—parliamentary seats need to be reserved for smaller districts such as Manang and Mustang. In a country like Nepal, with a highly diverse geography and unequal development patterns, adopting a parliamentary seat-allocation system based only on population might not be entirely reasonable.

Basis for delineation

To delineate the constituency, two models have been presented. In the first model, population is given a weightage of 54.55 percent, while the remaining 45.45 percent is allocated for districts as the markers for geographical area. In accordance to this model, Province 1 receives 29 constituencies, Province 2 receives 26, Province 3 receives 32, Province 5 receives 26, Province 6 receives 15, and Province 7 receives 18.    

In the second model population has been given a weight of 80 percent, while geographical area has been allocated a weight of 20 percent. Under this analysis, Province 1, 2, 3 and 4 bag 28, 29, 32 and 17 constituencies respectively. Similarly, Provinces 5, 6 and 7 receive 27, 14 and 17 constituencies respectively. 

Devkota is a fiscal federalisation and local government analyst

Published: 11-08-2017 08:33

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