CDC was given unrealistic 21-day deadline for constituency delimitation

  • Interview Balananda Paudel

Sep 4, 2017-

The five-member Constituency Delimitation Commission (CDC) belatedly came out with a report on delineating electoral constituencies for the upcoming provincial and national elections, downsizing from 240 constituencies in the last election to 165 constituencies for the election of House of Representatives, and another 330 constituencies for the first provincial elections.

The CDC was given little more than a month to formulate a report, and now concerns on the basis for delimitation have been arising.

As mandated by the constitution, the new constituencies cannot be altered for another 20 years and the CDC recommendations cannot be challenged in any court of law.

Anil Giri and Tika R Pradhan talked to Balananda Paudel,  an expert on governance and policy, and former Chairman of the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC), about the basis for constituency delimitation, possible issues with the report and the effort of the CDC in producing the report within the deadline. 

How closely does the report prepared by the CDC adhere to the constitutional mandate?

The constitution has stipulated certain guidelines that the CDC was legally bound to follow in preparing the report regarding the demarcation of units.

Pursuant to federal law, the CDC was to determine the constituencies for representation with a particular emphasis on population as the first basis for delineation, and geography as the second basis.

Population density, geographical categorisation, administrative and transport facilities, and social and cultural aspects are all factors that should have been taken into account in the course of determining the electoral constituencies.  

The CDC has carved out 165 constituencies across the country for the election of the House of Representatives. And as the constitutional provision requires two constituencies for each federal constituency, 330 constituencies have been demarcated for provincial elections.

The CDC is protected by the constitution and cannot be altered for 20 years. So, essentially, the CDC has the final say. But already, issues with the report have been emerging. 

As per the constitutional mandate, population must be the first basis for delineation of constituencies, so given this stipulation, in order for population to be given precedence over geography, it must be given a weightage anywhere between a minimum of 51 percent, and a maximum of 99 percent.

However, the constitution also stipulates that all districts must be allocated at least one constituency. 

The CDC, however, has allocated a 90 percent weightage to population and a 10 percent weightage to geography. This presents a number of problems. Under this weightage, there are four districts that should not have been allotted constituencies owing to their low population density: Manang, Mustang, Mugu, and Dolpa.

But the CDC has managed to carve out one constituency for each of these four districts.

The question now is which other districts did the CDC take these units from? 

In order for all districts to have one constituency, as per calculations, population should have been allocated a weightage of at least 83 percent, and geography should have been allocated 17 percent. 

The CDC was given a 21-day deadline to submit its report. Was this deadline feasible?

If the process of constituency delineation were to be undertaken properly, it would take at least five to six months. The CDC should have been established as soon as the LLRC submitted its revised report on March 10, 2017.

However, they were established late and thus had to work under immense pressure. 

While the CDC has managed to accomplish such a great task within such a short time, they may have fallen short in their endeavours. In order to formulate a comprehensive report, the CDC should have liaised extensively with representatives from the local levels.

However, given the shortage of time, I highly doubt that there was enough time for them to establish constructive dialogue to the degree required. So the question is whether or not they have managed to appropriately represent the citizens given this shortfall. 

Do you think gerrymandering had a considerable impact on the formation of units?

My experience in the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC) has shown me that there is always a risk of gerrymandering in the formation of units. As the Chairman of the LLRC, I witnessed several types of gerrymandering.

Centre specific gerrymandering, for example, is when certain areas are picked as the centre around which other units are delineated. These areas are picked as centres because they have a particularly strong supporter base for certain parties.

I have also witnessed resource-based gerrymandering, where units are formed on the basis of access to resources such as grazing land, pastures and water sources. 

One type of gerrymandering that we did allow to shape our decisions to some degree was cultural gerrymandering.

We took into consideration the cultural and linguistic commonalities within certain areas and formed units on this basis rather than on the basis of geography. However, we took into account the preference of citizens as well. 

The most common type of gerrymandering is political gerrymandering, where parties aim to place units in such a way that it benefits their groups. The LLRC did experience political gerrymandering to some degree.

However, I believe that there were more instances of political gerrymandering in the CDC. 

The LLRC was responsible for delineating developmental units for the purpose of governance. The CDC, however, is responsible for delineating representative units. Election constituencies in this case are determined for the purpose of election of members to the Federal Parliament and members to the State Assemblies.

So it stands to reason that there is more political gerrymandering in the CDC, as parties aim to influence decisions so units are fixed to their benefit in elections.

But the impact of political gerrymandering on the delineation of constituencies can only be ascertained once the report is made public and all details are disclosed. 

There has been some talk that political gerrymandering in the LLRC is the 

reason behind the CPN-UML’s successes  in the local level elections. What is your take?

I have had access to analysis of the local level elections and the voting patterns. This information negates the claim that the CPN-UML won purely on the basis of the structure of local level units.

However, this being said, I cannot state that there was absolutely no gerrymandering involved in the LLRC. Our work required discussions with the local levels, however, it was not feasible for us to travel to each of these areas given a number of constraints.

So, we involved political parties to make  the process easier and in doing so, we also inadvertently allowed them a platform for political gerrymandering.

Those members in the LLRC who had a stake in delineation matters also played a part in influencing, or trying to influence, the decision. But it was not only the CPN-UML who had a hand in this, all parties were involved to some degree. 

Does the constituency delimitation accurately represent citizens from all reaches of Nepal? 

We have districts like Dolpa, with an area of 7,889km square and a population density of 4.7/km square, and then we have districts like Kathmandu, with an area of 395 km square and a population density of 4,400/km square.

Nepal’s geography ranges from tundra to tropical climates within a range of 200km square, affecting population density and accessibility. All of these factors have to be taken into consideration in the delineation of constituencies.

We have to understand that delineation cannot occur on the basis of either population or geography alone. There is a need for a proper weightage afforded to both. If this cannot be accomplished, then the citizens will not be accurately represented.

The glaring error with this report is that, according to the 90 percent population and 10 percent geography weightage allocation, on average, one constituency should have a population of 160,000 citizens.

However, districts such as Manang, with a population of approximately 6,538 has been allocated one constituency. It seems that constituencies that should have been allocated to the hill districts have instead been set aside for sparsely populated districts for no justifiable reason.

Because of this, the population per unit in the Tarai region is less than the population per unit in the Hill region in many cases. This could potentially undermine the representation of voices from the Hill region. 

Of course, the voices in areas such as Manang, Mustang, Dolpa and Mugu should be given an outlet and citizens should be represented. These areas deserve a constituency.

However, the CDC should be able to publicly account for the current delineation of units to these areas. This delineation is inconsistent with the CDC’s weightage of 90 percent to population and 10 percent to geography.

But regardless of these issues, this report has to go into implementation. Issues may be raised by different political parties and citizens who feel that they have been deprived of representation, but the report will stand for another 20 years and cannot be corrected till that time has passed.

Published: 04-09-2017 08:28

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