"Interview with Mr Kore Vollen"
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 decide. 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 Parliament. 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 parties? 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.