Interview with Mr Kore Vollen by 7qLLJv


									         Electoral expert Mr. Kare Vollan speaks on the electoral system of Nepal
Kare Vollan, a Norwegian citizen is an internationally acclaimed expert in electoral systems and
processes. He has undertaken a lot of advisory works on elections and elective systems across the
globe. He has been involved in elections since 1990 when Eastern Europe opened up. He has visited
Nepal several times since 2006 and was involved here in the discussions of electoral systems and
worked with the Election Commission to make operational details of Constituent Assembly elections
based upon the Interim Constitution. He has also advised on elections and electoral processes in many
countries like CIS countries of Eastern Europe as well as Palestine and Guyana. He was head of
elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina and was in charge of organizing two elections there. He is also
currently working in Zimbabwe and Palestine apart from Nepal. Mr Vollan was interviewed by MIREST
Nepal at Godavari Village Resort in Lalitpur on July 09, 2009, while he was attending a workshop on
electoral systems organized by Election Commission of Nepal.

Q. What do you think of the electoral process adopted in the CA elections?
The first paper that defined the electoral system here was the 6-point agreement from November 2006
and where they mentioned it was supposed be a mixed system. The actual language in the constitution in
ambiguous, it just says mixed system but it does not clearly say whether it is the Parallel System or the
Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). In the process after that the parties agreed it was supposed to be the
parallel system. The same agreement also stated that “oppressed groups, region, Madheshi, Women,
Dalit and other groups” should be represented in proportion to their population. Here there was also room
for interpretation: Was the list of groups only covering minimum representation of marginalized groups or
was it a list covering all groups of the society? In other words, would the “Other” group cover other
marginalized groups or all other groups including Brahmins and Chettris? Similar language also came into
the Interim Constitution later on and that is the language that the Election Commission tried to make
operational both in the election law and in the instructions for the Electoral Commission of Nepal. Parties
had to have candidates according to the proportionate representation of the defined groups’ strength in
the population. But it didn’t then mention that it had also to be reflected in the results but that was
regulated later in the election law. They were able to implement an extremely complicated system. The
groups which were defined were women, Dalits, Madhesis, Janajatis, backward regions and others and it
worked the way it was intended to work. It probably worked best for Dalits and women because women
went up from little bit from 6% in 1999 in the First-Pastthe-Post (FPTP) and now they got 33% and Dalits
had 0% and they got 8%. On the other hand there are 50% women in the country and 13% Dalits
according to the census so of course they didn’t get a proportional share because of FPTP did not have
that pre-conditions attached in the Interim Constitution. But Madhesis and Others got more than their
share and Janajatis and backward regions got a little less. The main question is, however, if the list of the
Interim constitution was the right one. Did it serve the otherwise marginalized groups?

Q. How do you think the group ‘others’ should be defined?
The question is, the group ‘others’ could also be interpreted as ‘other oppressed groups or as everybody
else? For a period of time this seemed to mean other oppressed groups- people who would not be these
groups but which need some kind of affirmative action, for example religious minorities However, in the
end the Parliament defined the Other group to mean ‘everybody else’. This means Brahmins, Chettris,
and Muslims and so on. What we also discussed, because it says in the constitution “oppressed
communities/indigenous groups”, , does that mean all janajatis or does that mean only those who are
otherwise not represented? For example Newars, Gurungs, Limbus, etc have had a good share of the
Parliament even without any rules. The question was if “oppressed groups” should mean all janjatis or
only such groups which were not otherwise represented? The parliament’s final interpretation was that
this group meant all Janjatis. . So, then the question is it worked for Dalits and women, did it work for
these three groups Madhesis, Janajatis and others? Are there groups which did not get a fair chance to
be represented within the group definitions used? Within the Madhesi caste groups there are some
groups again which would be represented anyway- Brahmins and Yadav have been represented in 1999
and 1994 but there are lower caste groups which have not been represented and with this system they
did not have any guarantee for being represented, just like within the janajati groups where there may be
really underprivileged groups which are still not helped by this system. In most countries the quotas are
defined as minimum representation for marginalized groups, which in the Nepali context could mean that,
within the List PR part of the election, there needs to be at least 13% Dalits for example, but you can
have more. In the system used in 2008 it was not said it had to be at least 13% Dalits, it said that it had to
be exactly 13%, so you couldn’t have more on the list and could not have more elected which means that
also Brahmins and Chettris were protected with a certain percentage. A women’s party, for example, if
they had won three seats one had to be a man and even though women got only 33%, a women’s party
would have to be forced to have men. All these issues should be now revisited and one should ask the
questions who are the groups who actually need affirmative action. Because there are two philosophies
here, either one could say we divide everybody into groups and everybody has to be exactly represented
or you say it is up to the voters but we need some affirmative action for those groups who would
otherwise be not represented.

Q. We have been conducting public opinions on constitution making across the country, and we
have found that some of the minorities like the Punjabis have not been included in the CA election
process. How can we represent these minorities groups in the future elections?
Yes, these groups have been classified as “others”. Instead of just saying others you may instead identify
such groups but I don’t think it’s possible to identify each one of them as such. I think they need to come
together and say ‘we’ have common interest because we represent minority religions or a set of
underprivileged classes with common interests. For example high mountain Janajatis living with very
sparse resources and nomads may have some common interests discussing protection of nature against
the center who wants to use the natural resources for other purposes for example. So they could also
have some common interests. Each one of them would be too small to have representation individually
but if for example 15 Janajati groups of the mountain region came together based upon common interests
they could say we want to form a group where we want affirmative action, reserved seats some way or
the other. Dividing into very small and many groups may first of all be extremely complicated, and it cause
fragmentation instead of giving strength in support of common goals.

Q. Observers believe how the affirmation action that is the reservation of quotas, at the advent of
unifying the country dividing it into groups?
That is the dilemma. What they decided to do last time was to divide the whole electorate into exact
groups. The alternative could be to define only such groups that need affirmative action. By defining many
groups and quotas one should keep in mind that the voters’ choice is being restricted. The voters are
supposed to be “queens and kings” of democracy; they are supposed to be those who actually decide
something in this country. The more complex the rules are, the less are the choice of the people. So you
don’t want to define more rules than you need. One way is to state that a Nepali is a Nepali, but on the
other hand we know that social conditions in this country is such that if you don’t have some affirmative
action some will be left out of the decision making. So, one may want to actually have some rules to make
sure that it is a broadly represented parliament without making more restrictions than needed.

Q. This reservation or the affirmation action that is being adopted in the CA elections, will it
continue in the forthcoming Parliamentary elections?
That I don’t know. That is what they are debating in the CA. The decision rests upon Nepalese CA
members and the discussion should be broadly attended by the Nepali public. Q. What will be the impact
if these affirmation actions that we have suggested in the CA election continue in other elections and the
election will be capable of holding the society together? I think the electoral process could be simplified. I
think they should consider other philosophies but I am not giving a specific advice, it is up to the CA to

Q. What kind of possibilities could there be?
As I said, one could consider to identify groups which would otherwise be marginalized, otherwise not be
represented and make arrangement for them only.

Q. During public discussions, we have found that many people are saying that the First-Past-the-
Post (FPTP) election should be held in such a manner that people can vote a ‘yes’ vote and a ‘no’
vote for any candidate so that it can control the criminalization of the Nepalese politics. What is
your opinion on it?
Giving both a positive and a negative vote in the FPTP election could be done, but it would complicate the
system and possibly produce more invalid votes. The problem with the accountability is not so much on
FPTP but rather in the List PR part of the election. In List PR systems one would often introduce a so-
called open list system where the voters give individual voter to candidates within the list. When the whole
country is one constituency, this is not easy to implement, but with List PR in smaller multimember
constituencies it might be possible to implement. One should, however, keep in mind that in most
countries with closed lists the candidate lists are ranked by the parties before the elections. This enables
the voters to know who would be elected if a party wins seats and the parties cannot change that after the
elections. Don’t confuse List PR in multi-member constituencies with the Maoist’s proposal because the
Maoists proposal is not proportional in terms of party representation, but rather a winner-takes-all system.
When they call it proportional they mean proportional between ethnic groups and castes, not parties.

Q. In a List PR system in multi-member constituencies, how will the “List” be created? How can
an independent individual stand for the election?
By the parties, but in advance, so, that the people know them. Each party would have a list of let’s say 10
candidates, these lists are known to people in advance and they are ranked so the first person of the list
will be elected if they get enough votes, thereby, seats. Within the list there could be affirmative action.
This could be combined with the mixed system. The independent candidates who would want to contest
in the elections there would be a separate list with one name only. They will have much more chance to
be elected in this system than in the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system because in the First-Past-the-
Post need to get the highest numbers of the votes but in this one you need to have 10% of the4 votes and
you are elected because it is proportional.

Q. In a country such as Nepal where free and fair elections is not a guarantee, what sort of
electoral process do you propose?
I am not proposing a specific system. I would only try to explain what the different systems do, what are
the features and the criteria and also parties should define their own criteria. I think it is important to think
along 2-4 dimensions and there is a tendency here to either only think about one or only the other. So
when people are saying it needs to be proportional they may mean inclusive in terms of ethnic and caste
groups, and not in terms of parties. But in a multi-party democracy, it is the parties who actually define
policies. They are the ones with the programs about trade, industries, agriculture, school, health care.
The parties are the ones who actually compete based on their election manifesto. In addition
representation of groups is important. It is well understood around the world that both genders should be
well represented. Then groups which are not naturally represented and who have some interest which
would otherwise not be protected, they should special arrangements to be included so that the legislature
actually have the experience and they also can use their position within the parties to influence the party
line. Therefore it needs to be inclusive in that direction as well. Along the political dimension I would be
careful with the system that would leave the losers with very few seats in parliament. If they are totally
marginalized or have a very small caucus in parliament, even if they came as number two or three in the
election, their supporters may not feel safe, they would not be included or they would not think that they
are a part of the political process. There should be system where also the losers feel comfortable in the

Q. You said it is the parties that define policies but what we have experiences so far is that the
parties criminalize the elections by rigging polls. In such a situation should we pay more attention
to the intentions of parties or to other issues like inclusiveness?
I think the problems are more general. For example, if organized group for Janajatis or particular castes
were running for elections do you think they will behave different from parties? In a competition for
powers there is a need certain rules to make sure that there isn’t corruption, there isn’t illegal activities,
regardless if the competitors are called- a party or Janajati group or a Dalit group. I don’t think it helps to
just say that now we remove the strength of the parties and we give that significance to somebody else.
Those running should have policies and the voters should know in advance what policies the groups
running represent and then it does not matter if they are called parties or special interest groups.

Q. The Maoist had a different manifesto before the CA elections, and now in the recent meeting of
their Politburo, they have changed their position completely in regards to the electoral system and
the system of governance. How can the voters control such kind of deviations of the political
Without relating to one party or one event I would say that you in the media have a special duty to
disclose any inconsistencies, changes in policies (which are not always bad) and how promises before
elections are being followed up later. You need to give accurate and critical reviews and help voters make
up their minds for the next elections.

Q. The List PR was developed for inclusion of excluded in the mainstream polity. Due to this
system out of the 75 districts in Nepal some districts have 24-25 representatives and some have
just two! So, how can we explain geographical inclusion through this?
The number of FPTP seats varies from one to ten per district. This is the part of the election where the
geographical representation is guaranteed. The number of representatives per district is determined on
the basis of population, but no district should have less than one representative. Therefore the small
districts in terms of population are overrepresented in this part of the election. In the List PR election there
was a provision guaranteeing the nine most backward districts (in terms of economy) a proportional share
of the representation. Apart from that there were no rules in the List PR part of the election to secure
geographical balance. That was up to the parties. Had the lists been ranked, the voters would have
known in advance how their district had been represented by a party. However, the way of guaranteeing
geographical representation within List PR is to introduce multi-member constituencies.

Q. List PR in the CA election was misused for personal, family and petty interests by high profile
political actors of numerous political parties. A trend has been established that many of the seats
meant for proportional representation went to close relatives of high profile political leaders. Is it
the loop-hole of List PR system?
If that happened, it is not because of the PR system; it is because of the selection process which was
totally unusual outside of Nepal. Nepal is one of only three countries I know of who has that the possibility
for the parties to select the winners from the lists after the election. All other countries have “Ranked
Lists” where they tell in advance what the list looks like. So the voters know in advance that if this party
wins 20 seats they will come from these particular regions, they will be of this gender, they will belong of
this groups.

Q. The candidate selection similar to Nepal was tried in Serbia and Guyana and it failed. What do
you think?
From an international point of view the electoral process should be as transparent and predictable as
possible and accountability should be high. That is why in most countries there are Ranked List for
proportional representation, in which the ranking of candidates cannot be altered by the parties after the
election is over.

Q. In the context of size and diversity of the people of Nepal how many members should there be
in the future Parliament to represent the people?
I do not have a firm opinion about that, other than to say that countries of Nepal’s size normally have far
smaller parliaments than the current CA. The size may to some extent depend on whether it is a mixed
system, where you may want a little bit more seats to accommodate either geographical and party
representatives, or a fully proportional system with multi-member constituencies when these two are
combined and one may need fewer seats.

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