Trickle-down democracy

  • EC needs to improve voting procedures so all citizens can vote and electoral outcomes better represent them
- Sanjay Sharma

Jan 17, 2018-

The deeper nuances of electoral numbers in the recent elections bear further analysis, particularly in regards to the number of voters, turnout, invalid votes, and votes garnered by political parties. 

In 2017, Nepalis went to the polling stations twice, once to select their local representatives, and once to select their new-formed House of Representatives (HoR) and Provincial Assembly (PA) representatives. Amidst a lot of perceived uncertainty prior to the elections, the successful conclusion of the polls and the results suggest that Nepalis will now have a stable government where the left alliance will now govern the federation and six out of the seven provinces.

Trickling down

The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) estimated that the population in 2017 was about 28,771,783 (low variant estimation). About 35 percent (9,954,672) of the population was below 18 years of age and therefore unable to vote. Only the remaining 65 percent were legally allowed to choose the type of representatives who would govern the population and devise policies that affected not just their present but also their future. 

Even among those citizens who were aged 18 years and above, not everyone chose to register to vote or were not able to register or cast their votes because of various reasons like migration, work, illness, reluctance, apathy, lack of documents, and others. During the 2017 PA and HoR elections, there were 15,427,731 registered voters. This number is only 54 percent of the population of Nepal. Meaning that only 54 percent chose to/could register themselves in the voters list. The Election Commission (EC) needs to think about these statistics. 

After the elections were concluded, the EC reported that of the total 15,427,731 registered voters, only about 68.6 percent (10,587,521) participated in the elections. This number is only about 37 percent of the total population of Nepal.

Further, the EC mentioned that about 10 percent (1,042,777) of the total votes cast in the proportional representation (PR) category were invalid. Similarly, 15 percent (1,568,191) of the total votes in the PA were considered invalid. To present a clear picture for the sake of this analysis, I’d like to focus exclusively on the PR numbers. In the PR category, there were 9,544,744 total valid votes. This means that only 33 percent of the total population of Nepal could make their voices heard in the PR elections. 

The massive programmes launched by the EC in voter education seem to have failed in this regard. The EC needs to think of better voter education campaigns.  The EC also needs to make sure that they involve civil society organisations, community-based organisations, community groups, and other volunteer groups in providing voter education.

With the completion of the 2017 elections, votes were tallied and it was found that the largest party garnered 3,173,494 PR votes during the elections for the HoR. There are also parties who have gathered less than 500 votes from throughout the country. While the votes cast for the largest party is about one-third of the total votes that were cast, this number actually comprises about only one-tenth of the country’s total population. 

Majoritarian democracy

One of the perks of democracy for the party with the most votes is that they get to assume control of the government despite the fact that two-thirds of the voters who actually cast their votes did not choose in favour of the winning party. And in terms of the residents, only about one-tenth of the country’s population cast valid votes for the winning party, thus deciding the fate of governance for the entire country. 

Problems such as these are inherent in a democracy, and it is the duty of the government, government departments and line agencies, political parties, civil society, media, and the public to resolve these issues and improve upon the situation. One of the key hurdles concerns the lost voters as a result of migration. This problem should be addressed immediately. While it might take time to bring the international migrants on board through internet voting, the voices of internal migrants should not be lost. Immediate action is needed towards this end. Furthermore, documentation related hassles should also be dealt with, and a one-document-serve-all policy should be adopted by the government. For the other problems, there needs to come another system of governance where there is more representation so more voices are heard. Until such innovations are made, let’s stay with trickle-down democracy and try to make it better.

Sharma is a student of political science @chaupaari

Published: 17-01-2018 07:47

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