Print Edition - 2013-06-18 | Oped
Jun 17, 2013-
The Nepal government has officially formed a constituency delimitation commission as per the directives of Supreme Court for the second Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. While it would be premature to already judge the effectiveness of this commission, it can be speculated that it will not address key issues or deliver what it should. Different media sources have reported that the High Level Political Commission (HLPC) decided to make changes to 35 seats. However, the commission cannot go along with this if it believes in ethics or functions on principle.
As per the latest census, the commission needs to modify the constituencies of at least 18 districts, which include 69 constituencies altogether. Out of those, five districts—Dhankuta, Sankhuwasabha, Parbat, Okhaldhunga and Taplejung—had two constituencies each, which will probably be reduced to one each. This should not pose a problem as there will be no political bickering over constituency borders. However, the remaining constituencies will need to be reapportioned. If we look at the changes in population dynamics within the districts, particularly intra-district migration, this also demands the redistricting of constituencies and adjustments in malpractices of the earlier apportionment process. At the same time, there is also debate about whether the apportionment should be based on the census population or the voter population. Given these complications, the job of the commission looks difficult to complete within the allotted time.
Census vs voters list
In the first CA election, there were more voters registered in both Morang (648,894) and Jhapa (628,666) than in Kathmandu (596,495) but Kathmandu had the largest number of constituencies. There are nine and seven seats allocated for Morang and Jhapa respectively but 10 for Kathmandu. These kinds of flaws exist in the case of other districts too. For instance, both Sunsari (477,973), Kailali (475,436) and Sarlahi (471,489) had more voters than Dhanusa (463,225) but the latter had seven seats whereas the former had six each. If we rely on the principle that each vote has equal value, then delimitation based on the census is wrong. It is also important to note that the census accounts for every one residing in a location at the time of census, irrespective of their nationality. So the foreign population has greater influence in urban centres like Kathmandu and many Tarai districts.
The census also excludes the migrant labour population and therefore, doesn’t provide the accurate population of Nepali citizens. Rather, it only gives the population of residents of an area. Besides, the census counts everyone whereas the voting franchise is only given to the citizens who have reached 18 years of age by the stated reference date.
Issues of exclusion and inclusion
Under the existing legal provision of the election (acts and rules), the new commission will be exclusionary. It advocates and caters to the needs of areas that are densely populated,
like the Tarai and the Kathmandu Valley, despite the fact that these areas are already over represented. Moreover, people from districts with low levels of development, who have temporarily migrated to these urban centres, are prohibited from voting from their temporary location. However, their presence increases the number of constituencies in developed districts and urban centres. Therefore, given the large floating population of Nepal, alternative provisions for voting should be made. This floating nature has already led to a decrease in the population of 27 districts, as reported by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
In this context, the Election Commission’s (EC) provision for registration in the voting list from the district of temporary residence is a positive step for participation in the democratic process. To further facilitate the meaningful participation of people, remote and less developed districts should be put prioritised. For instance, there are currently five seats in Karnali, one from one district. The EC should now come up with a provision of one more representative from all of Karnali as a constituency. This sixth seat should be allocated only to Dalits or women. This provision will have multiple benefits. First, the leadership will be a popular representative of the entire region, as well as a marginalised group. Second, this kind of popular representation reduces social rifts caused by the division of districts and constituencies.
The third important challenge for the constituency delimitation commission will be gerrymandering. Some leaders of regional parties boycotted the Interim Parliament meeting and disturbed its function due to the first delimitation commission report. Finally, the report was modified as per their wishes. Looking at the map of constituencies, anyone can guess how VDCs are included or excluded in constituencies. A reference can be taken from constituency number one and two of Kathmandu and compare the 1999 legislative election results with the 1997 local election results.
Composition of the commission
All the commission members may have expertise in their areas of study but none of them are experts in apportionment or redistricting. Besides, one must have knowledge of the country’s demographic composition and the migratory nature of its population, which is seasonal, temporary, semi-permanent or permanent. Members without adequate knowledge who are simply representatives of interest groups will hardly serve the needs of the nation.
Finally, the constitutional provision concerning the reallocation of constituencies by district contains flaws. To adopt and develop appropriate democratic practices, the EC, political parties and policymakers should take note of a few vital demographic phenomena, along with the census coverage and the voting population.
Adhikari is a demographer and lecturer at RR campus
Published: 18-06-2013 09:27